Why the smallest constitutional change is a major risk
Even for many of those who support the idea of giving the government the power to expropriate its citizens’ property without compensation (EWC), meddling with the constitution was once viewed as a step too far.
This is not surprising, as the constitution is a source of national pride, if not national identity. But it is puzzling how complacent many of the same people are about actually fighting a constitutional amendment, now that the ruling party has committed to pushing one through.
This is something that we at the Institute of Race Relations have noticed in our work around property rights. It is both strange and jarring.
Some background is necessary. Ever since the push for EWC began, a vocal chorus of voices have called for a constitutional change on essentially ideological grounds. This approach typically fails to explain why a constitutional change is necessary – it is deeply statist and hostile to private property – but is at least consistent in its goals.
Another perspective has declared that EWC is permissible under the constitution as it exists. None other than President Cyril Ramaphosa asserted in July that ‘there is also a growing body of opinion, by a number of South Africans, that the Constitution as it stands does not impede expropriation of land without compensation.’