After a cliffhanger 2018, all eyes are on the New Year’s sequel
If 2018 had been a movie, it would have ended in a cliffhanger, an inconclusive final scene that leaves the audience holding its breath. The central plot of the year was clear: the contest around introducing a regime of Expropriation without Compensation. It has both driven and ridden a crest of heady emotion, goaded by ideology, and justified with circular appeals to economic transformation. And it reached its climax when Parliament adopted a report recommending a change to the constitution.
Hence we await the coming year’s sequel. How the script will pan out is unknown, but it seems quite apparent where the key plotlines will unfold.
The most obvious is the proposed constitutional change. This is the first change to the Bill of Rights since the constitution was adopted, and is thus no small matter. It has the potential to call into question the robustness of South Africa’s constitutional framework as a bulwark against the abuse of state power. The idea that whatever happens will be undertaken within the parameters of the constitution looks decidedly less reassuring when those parameters are to be dismantled.
What this change will look like is anybody’s guess. It may tinker with wording (makes ‘explicit that which is implicit’, as the parliamentary report puts it) or it may pave the way for something altogether more extreme, such as the custodial seizure of all land in the country. While there has been some effort by government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to downplay the extent of the change, it would be premature to assume that an altogether more ‘radical’ option may not prevail. After all, post-election, a good showing by the Economic Freedom Fighters might embolden them to demand a thorough butchering of the property clause in exchange for cooperation with the ANC.