Taking land from wealthy white South Africans without negotiation or compensation would most hurt poor, demographically often black, South Africans.

Aug 03, 2014, 08:41 PM

Taking land from wealthy white South Africans without negotiation or compensation would most hurt poor, demographically often black, South Africans.

There is a strange irony when the actual implementation of government policy designed to aid the poor, in reality would hurt the poor deeply. When South Africa introduced its constitution, it enshrined amongst other things the right to land, including the rights of people to have the government restore the land which was taken from them or their community during Apartheid. Our neighbouring countries do not have such rights to land as we do in South Africa. In large parts of Africa, the government sells already occupied land to large corporations who promised investment. The investment often does not occur but yet the land is utilised for massive agricultural farms or factories. Whether the occupants of the land are merely people who for many years have rested upon it and gained their livelihood from it, or prior to that were true owners is often irrelevant. The government, with or without compensation removes the land from them, in sales in which they had no say, to foreign corporations of the type which have no care for them. This is what happens when there is no right to land.

Zimbabwe has an even stranger system of land tenure. White Zimbabweans were chased from their farming estates in a violent version of no negotiation and no compensation policies being put forward in South Africa. What happened next however is very different than one might have expected. The war veterans as they called themselves wanted land ownership. This is one thing they still lack in every way. Yes, they are permitted to farm on the land they took from the dead and fleeing. The government however does not permit them to own the land. Some were given certificates originally, and have now been given a different type of document: in both cases these land usurpers are not given ownership. Their property can be taken back at any time by the government should it find that they are not utilising it profitably. This might seem reasonable at first glance, a determination to ensure that agricultural land is profitable. Unfortunately, because the farmers do not own the land in the case that they are not profitable: the land is worthless as far as real security is concerned. Banks will not loan money to farmers without security. If things go wrong the bank have nothing to sell to regain their money. Perhaps the Zimbabwean government might decide to force banks to loan the money. Unfortunately that would create an even worse predicament. Would the loans be unlimited, would they be based upon creditworthiness? How would banks get their money back? Surely also interest rates would have to increase radically to do away with the high risk of default. Perhaps the Zimbabwean government could again prevent these high interest rates? In that case the banks would likely have to cut back on staff, leave the country, or shut down.

Let us however look at what is the likely implementation of a no negotiation or a no compensation policy involving South African land in white hands. Would this only involve land from which black South Africans had been removed? Could the land only be taken from white owners, or from anyone who bought the land from those who gained it from the government? Would such a policy take into account the massive population growth South Africa has encountered since land was taken? Would only those who were pushed off a certain plot of land gain land, and would this land actually be worth anything given how much the population has grown?

South Africa’s customary land system itself has been much criticised in the way it leaves ownership of the land either with the chief or with a corporation under his control. The problem again lies with real security of tenure. Land is so useful because it can be sold by a bank if the loan defaults. The American property bubble which caused the recent Great Depression ...