Expropriation Without Compensation

The post-Apartheid regime’s determination to carry out land reform came to a head in 2018, when Parliament adopted a resolution that committed the institution to amending the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of private property, mostly rural land, without compensation (for a broad discussion about the question of land and property in post-Apartheid South Africa, see Van Staden [2019, 272].). In the words of president Cyril Ramaphosa, the measure would address the “original sin” of land dispossession (quoted in Herman 2018). Others too, like Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a radical Marxist-Leninist party, believe that the answer to poverty in South Africa is land redistribution, and that South Africans are poor because they do not own land (Cronje 2014).

Sunter, however, noted that peasant or subsistence farming will not provide the answer to South Africa’s poverty woes. Indeed, the Apartheid homeland policy—requiring blacks to live in rural areas—was particularly directed toward “depositing masses of people on semi-arable land in rural areas remote from markets.” Instead, it is principally in urban areas that people learn trades and entrepreneurship (Sunter 1993, 73–74).

When the government expropriates property for public purposes or land reform, the Constitution requires government to pay just and equitable compensation based, among other things, on market value. Expropriation without compensation would remove that provision. A similar process was followed in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s, when farms owned by whites were violently expropriated without compensation, crashing the banking sector and consequently the economy. The EFF, which has been the greatest champion of expropriation without compensation, has lauded the Zimbabwean situation as one to emulate (Head 2019).

According to the CEO of the Institute of Race Relations, Frans Cronje, prospects for blocking expropriation without compensation in the May 2019 general election hinged on keeping the ANC and the EFF, collectively, under 66 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. In terms of the 1996 Constitution, that coalition would need a two-thirds majority in the lower house of Parliament to amend the Constitution to implement its program (Cronje 2019a). The ANC and EFF collectively attained 68 percent of the vote, however, and now do possess a two-thirds majority of the seats in the National Assembly.

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