Our radioactive reputation

Andrew Donaldson on SA's dismal showing on the Fraser institute's economic freedom index


THE Fraser Institute, a Canadian free market think tank, recently released its annual global economic freedom index. South Africa fared poorly in the Economic Freedom of the World 2021 ratings, which is perhaps why its publication has attracted little or no official comment: to do so would run the risk of drawing attention to a document that more or less advises foreign investors to take their money elsewhere as Pretoria could steal it.

This may seem overly harsh, but it is the subtext of The Dangers of South Africa’s Proposed Policy of Confiscating Property, a chapter in the document written by the Free Market Foundation’s Martin van Staden: the piss-poor performance and free-fall down the ratings can be linked directly to proposals to change the Constitution and concerns about property rights and “expropriation without compensation”. This year, South Africa is ranked 84th out of the 165 countries analysed in the EFW index; in 1990 it was 47th. 

It is worth noting that some data in the index is not up to date. Its editors reveal that, possibly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, certain reports from the World Bank and the World Economic Forum were not available for inclusion and the institute was not able “to update completely many components of the EFW index that rely on those sources for all or a portion of the scores”. They suggest, then, that the index should be regarded as a reflection of 2019.

Another interesting aside is that Hong Kong remains in first place, a position it has held for all the years the index has been published. It’s a rating, editors say, that does not “fully reflect” impact of the anti-democracy crackdowns that began in 2019 or the draconian laws passed by Beijing last year to deal with dissent. “Even so, we are  perhaps just beginning to see the effect of policy changes in Hong Kong as the result of the 1997 establishment of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region with China.” The latter, incidentally, is ranked 116th on the index. [1]

None of this, however, detracts from Van Staden’s unpacking of what he terms the government’s proposed “confiscation regime”. As far as he and many critics are concerned, talk of “expropriation without compensation” is a nonsensical contradiction; what, in fact, is implied is “another form of arbitrary dispossession”. He writes:

“For indeed expropriation (elsewhere known as compulsory purchase, takings, or eminent domain) and compensation are inseverable from one another, throughout history and around the world. International law requires compensation to be paid upon expropriation, as does every legal system in the open and democratic world.”

There are two statutes at issue here: the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill and the Expropriation Bill. Of the two, the latter is more likely to become law and thus, on the one hand, allow government to confiscate whatever suits its purposes while, on the other, leave property owners and investors with absolutely no guarantee that they will not be arbitrarily stripped of their assets at the whim of a spiteful and often ill-informed bureaucracy.

It’s easy to see why all this would appeal to the lunatic fringe, like the failed cabbage farmer Julius Malema and his fellow agrarian reformists, many of whom would have difficulty pointing out Venezuela on a map. But it terrifies local economists. 

As for foreign investors, well, I fail to see why they’d even be bothered.

The Expropriation Bill is, of course, not confined merely to land. At present, there’s no confiscation provision envisaged for intellectual property although, as Van Staden notes, “government is currently considering intellectual-property legislation that significantly weakens protection for intellectual property”. They also want the power to prescribe to private pension fund managers where to invest their clients’ savings – an envisaged windfall, that is, for struggling state-owned enterprises. 

“In other words,” Van Staden says, “all these interventions must be seen within the broader context of a government wishing to significantly undermine protections for all sorts of property rights.”

It’s fair to say that Cyril Ramaphosa is aware of this. He’s hosted enough of those shabby cocktail functions at Davos and elsewhere to know that there’s a bit more to attracting foreign investment than throwing stale vol-au-vents at guests and plying them with drink. If he hasn’t worked out by now why the world’s business leaders always look over his shoulder when he’s talking to them, then Squirrel is perhaps a bit more dim than previously thought. 

The problem, as Van Staden points out, is that the ANC’s “dispossession” intentions have been driven by populism. Given the broad scope of their failings, and the widespread discontent this has engendered, the ruling party finds itself in a position where it will be well nigh impossible to backtrack or significantly scale down its plans to the extent that investor confidence will ever be restored.

Squirrel has of course repeatedly stressed that his government will of course ensure that any constitutional amendment in this regard will not be harmful to investment potential, economic growth or food security. Frankly, it’s difficult to believe him. Apart from the weaselly vagueness of such undertakings, we should not forget that he’s a politician and that politicians lie. It’s their sine qua non

Van Staden instead proposes that parliamentary discretion clauses be removed from the Amendment Bill and replaced with a “closed list (numerus clauss)” of exceptional circumstances under which government may confiscate property. 

Any amendments to the Expropriation Bill, meanhile, must clearly state how property that has been expropriated, “with or without compensation”, for land-reform purposes will become the property in title of beneficiaries. “In other words, the possibility of the State expropriating private property and becoming a landlord-owner in its own right for future tenants must be excluded entirely.”

Privately owned property, the backbone of any economy, will remain at least theoretically and constitutionally safe, Van Staden argues, while satisfying any nominal desire for land. “Such an arrangement should satisfy all the bona fide participants in the land discourse.” 

Above all, protection of the Constitution is paramount. If anything, section 25 must be strengthened, he says. “Any amendment to weaken it should be out of the question.” 

To infinity and beyond ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

No-one here, I believe, is losing sleep over Jacob Zuma’s indignant beef that, having lost his bid to have his contempt of court order rescinded, he’s now the victim of an “emerging constitutional dictatorship” – whatever that is. 

It is the same old, same old, all over again: the man once described as being a “constitutional delinquent” claims the very judges tasked with safeguarding the Constitution consider themselves above the Constitution. This is rich, considering no-one has demonstrated a more toxic disregard for the Constitution than Accused Number One himself.

You’d suppose that, what with the resumption of his arms deal corruption trial this week, the great Blesser would have been otherwise preoccupied. But no. As that age-old idiom has it: if at first you don’t succeed, then fail, fail and fail again. 

On Saturday, it was reported that uBaba had instructed his lawyers to take the matter of his “detention without trial” by Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and the Constitutional Court to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. Legal experts say he hasn’t a hope of succeeding; the African court simply has no jurisdiction over the matter.

No problem. Zuma will probably then approach the International Court of Justice in The Hague. And if the UN’s principal judicial body won’t grant him what he wants, well, what’s to stop him from seeking a satisfactory outcome elsewhere? There’ll surely come a day in the distant future when councillors with Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets find themselves mired in this farce. [2]

The sad uncle

Carl Niehaus has received a lot of press lately. There were TV appearances on Sunday and Monday evening, along with a number of articles online and in the dead tree press over the weekend. For those who missed the deluge, I recommend a trawl through his Twitter account. It’s filled with the highlights of recent developments, all carefully curated by Carl.

Here, for example, is Carl taking issue with News24’s Mandy Weiner, accusing her of pushing “white monopoly capital” propaganda and telling her how to do her job. Here is Carl complaining that Saturday Star columnist Bongani Bingwa insensitively referred to his deafness to make the point that he was politically hard of hearing. And, even in reaction to a report that is not about him at all, here is Carl whining that the Sunday Times got it all wrong in their report about Soweto residents being angry with the ANC. In addition, there are his posts on the legal challenge to his summary dismissal and his decision to lay criminal charges against ANC office bearers. 

There are those who believe Carl may have a case regarding his dismissal: how could he be charged with bringing the ANC into disrepute when its reputation is that of a mafia-like criminal enterprise? However, and regardless of his ousting’s legal status, what he surely must understand is simply this: the gang doesn’t want him – period. 

Let’s suppose he wins his case, what then? He’ll return to Luthuli House as if nothing’s happened? “Hi, it’s me, I’m back! Where’s my gear?” 

I think not. Sad as it may be, the avowals of love for the movement, an organisation he regards as his home, count for zip when his so-called comrades can’t stand his guts. 

The feeling here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) is that he should cut his losses and split. But where to? Who’ll have him? 

I believe Orania is a viable option. His people live there, after all, and being a Christian community, they will readily welcome Carl into their midst, regardless of his failings. There can surely be no better place in which to return to the straight and narrow; it’s a peaceful town, filled with a pioneering spirit, and miles from the temptations and hurly burly of the cities.

It won’t be easy, of course. Orania’s residents frown on profligate camouflage, given the association with paramilitary oafs like the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging. It’s the sort of thing that foreign hacks want to see when they pitch up to write another “shooting fish in a barrel” investigation into post-apartheid irony. So, sorry Carl, but military fatigues won’t be permitted, even when on street-sweeping duty. Neither will there be opportunities to toyi toyi at the volkspele

But the embargo on guerrilla cosplaying shouldn’t be a problem. Carl does pink rather well and, according to Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis, he is able to “retro-fit” himself into any new role or scenario. And, provided he doesn’t bother anyone for a loan, he should do just fine there.

Bum raps

Last week, the Caribbean virologist Onika Maraj-Petty announced she would be conducting independent research into coronavirus vaccine programmes. In the interim, she advised the public to continue with the usual safety practices. The medical fraternity, meanwhile, awaited her findings with bated breath. 

Then it came: “My cousin in Trinidad,” she tweeted, “won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied”

This was deeply troubling. Maraj-Petty is better known as the rapper Nicki Minaj. She has, over the course of a successful musical career, expressed a singular interest in what may be termed “men’s health”. Her 2014 global smash Anaconda is a case in point, suggesting as it does, according to the conservative National Review, that the promotion of prostitution, promiscuity and a prodigious drug intake may be good for male happiness and wellbeing. The jungle-themed Anaconda music video, soberly described by one critic as a “bananas clip” in which “butts abound”, makes it clear the way to a man’s heart is perhaps not through his stomach.

Be that as it may, Minaj has almost 23 million followers on Twitter. Her influence is considerable, so much so that Trinidad and Tobago’s health minister, Dr Terrence Deyalsingh, was moved to publicly state: “As we stand now, there is absolutely no reported such side effect or adverse event of testicular swelling in Trinidad.” A writer in The Times notes that the country’s calypso artists have also called on Minaj in their songs to “stop de nonsense”. One couplet sums up the national mood: “Covid have people catching hell/Nobody care if de boyfriend gonads swell.” [3]

There is a serious element to all this. Less than 40 per cent of Trinidadians have been able to receive a single dose of the vaccine, while only a third are fully vaccinated. This may seem startling to some – here in the UK, for example, citizens aged 50 and older are now eligible for a third jab, a booster that will be administered along with the annual ‘flu shot – but countries in Africa still only dream of such numbers. 

The continent, I learn, is set to become the Covid centre of the world. A mere three per cent of all Africans are fully vaccinated against the virus; in the last month, another million people were infected, and it’s claimed that 26 die every hour. With the overwhelming majority of adults unprotected, the virus, especially the highly transmissible Delta variant, will continue its rampage unchecked.

The problem, according to Gordon Brown, Felix Tshisekedi and Michael Sibide, is one of hoarding. [4] 

Writing in The Times, they state that, to date, 7.5 billion vaccines have been produced globally, yet Africa has received only 170 million – a little more than two per cent of all the world’s jabs. “In some cases,” they say, “nations have ten doses of vaccines per capita. It is time to transfer vaccines from the vast stockpile the West has built up, and will continue to accumulate, to the low-income nations that need them.” Doing so, it’s argued, will be in everyone’s interests. 

Meanwhile, as the world opens up to vaccinated South African travellers, the UK government, for reasons unknown but nevertheless believed to be racist, insist that Saffers who arrive here must quarantine regardless of their status. Perhaps they should just stay away. They will at least be spared the ordeal of TV newsreaders drearily recounting daily infection rates and Covid fatalities with all the emotional impact of the shipping report. 

“Latest figures … on Sunday … yawn … 29 612 new cases … data suggests a fall of 17.7 per cent on the previous week … 56 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test … yawn … deaths in the last week up by 3.3 per cent on the week before … zzzzzz …”



[1] The index’s top ten countries are: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Georgia, United States, Ireland, Lithuania, Australia and Denmark. This is as effective an indication as any that economic freedom is in no way reflective of wealth, and vice versa. The ten countries with the least economic freedom are: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syrian Arab Republic, Republic of Congo, Iran, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Libya, Sudan and, in last place, Venezuela.

[2] One can imagine the whispered asides between intergalactic lawmakers as the hearing continues into the umpteenth eon: “Graaagh! Here we go again with the Billy Downer stuff…” “Yes, that Mpofu is incessant. He does go on and on and on…” “Well, it is perhaps why Her Munificence, the Empress Winnie, Mother of the Universe, chose him above all others to lie with her.” “Logical. But unbecoming that a Vulcan should be concerned with such tattle…”

[3] No other form of musical expression mixes topical commentary with ribald humour as effectively as calypso. A typical example is Mighty Sparrow’s Philip, My Dear, a response to the incident in July 1982 in which an intruder, Michael Fagan, broke into Buckingham Palace and wandered into the Queen’s bedchamber: “Philip, my dear/Last night I thought was you in here/Where did you go?/Working for good old England/Missing out all the action/My dear, do you know?/There was a man in my bedroom/Wearing your shoe/Trying on the royal costume/Dipping in the royal perfume/I telling you true/There was a man in my bedroom/Anxious for a rendezvous/And I thought it was you…”

[4] A former British prime minister, Brown is now ambassador for global health financing at the World Health Organisation; Tshisekedi is president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and currently chairs the African Union; and Sibide is the AU’s special envoy for Africa Medicine Agency.