The enemies of property rights

Andrew Kenny writes on what the ANC, Karl Marx, Julius Malema and the Zulu King all have in common

Karl Marx & King Goodwill Zwelithini on Property Ownership

What do Karl Marx, King John (of 13th Century England), King Goodwill Zwelithini, Julius Malema and the ANC all have in common? They all believe that ordinary people should not be allowed to own land. The apartheid government agreed with them as far as ordinary black people were concerned.

Commentators have expressed shock that Julius Malema supports King Goodwill’s claim that, because of the Ingonyama Trust, a large portion of the land of KwaZulu-Natal belongs to the traditional leadership – in other words to himself and his chiefs. I don’t know why they are surprised. Malema’s position is perfectly in line with his Marxist beliefs, and consistent with the ANC’s long held views.

Beliefs about how land should be owned are deep and ancient, and predate the human race. Humans are territorial apes. To be biologically accurate, we are a type of chimpanzee. If you study Common Chimpanzees in the wild you get an excellent background to the human history of land ownership. The chimps live in tightly knit tribes ruled by a leader, always male, chosen for his physical strength and force of personality.

The tribe owns the territory communally under his leadership. The main job of the leader is to protect his tribe and territory against other chimp tribes in murderous territorial wars. Human land ownership developed from these beginnings. The human tribes became much bigger and owned much larger areas; the leaders gave themselves titles such as “King” or “Chief” and acquired sub-leaders called “Barons” or “Lords” or “Elders”; and often leadership became hereditary and ruling families became established.

By these processes, human societies all around the world, including Africa, developed similar systems of land ownership where all rights were with a ruling caste and ordinary people had none. In Europe it was called the feudal system. Each baron, under the authority of the King, owned the land and owned serfs whom he allowed to live on it provided they worked for him and fought for him. His main job, like the chimp leader, was to protect his territory against other barons. It was a sort of protection racket, rather like that used by Al Capone and other Mafia gangsters in the USA in the 20th Century.

King John was a typical feudal king. In 1215 his Barons forced him to sign the famous Magna Carta. This document, with its 63 clauses, is of great interest and significance. It is basically a contract between the King and the Barons, and it is mainly about land ownership and the rules by which the Barons may acquire and dispose of property. Ordinary people are seldom mentioned and property rights for the serfs are never mentioned – for the obvious reason that it would never have occurred to any of the signatories that ordinary people, people of the lower classes, could ever own land. It would have seemed absurd and unnatural.

Capitalism, beginning in Europe in the 17th Century, smashed the feudal system and uprooted all the ancient beliefs of men. Property rights, the rights of every adult to own his or her own land and do with it whatever he or she pleases, are a cornerstone of capitalism. This is a reason socialists hate it so much. Karl Marx gives a vivid account of this in his Communist Manifesto (1848), which gives original insights about our past and rambling nonsense about our future. Marx gives the best description ever of the astonishing productivity of capitalism and also of its brutal ability to smash the old class system of aristocratic status and commoners’ deference.

The new economic leaders were factory owners and businessmen, who had no respect for ancient authority. The new dominant economic force was the market. This horrified Marx. His solution, vague in the extreme, was working class revolution and rule. It was abstract and contradictory, opening itself to almost any interpretation by would-be revolutionary leaders but it did have a deep underlying philosophy, discussed in the next paragraph. On one thing Marx was specific: there must be no individual ownership of land. It must be owned by the state, which means the revolutionary caste ruling the state.

Between the lines of the Communist Manifesto, one can read Marx’s deep snobbery, deep hatred for the working classes and deep belief in status and deference. (Snobbery is the essential characteristic of Marxists, which is why university academics, the most snobbish people on Earth, love it so much.) Essentially Marx was calling for a return of the feudal system. Marxism is the most reactionary ideology ever devised. When Lenin seized power in Russia in 1917, he did what Marx had called for and took Russia back to feudalism. Other communist revolutions did the same. The titles changed: “King” became “General Secretary” or “Chairman”; the “Crown” became the “Communist Party”; “Baron” became “Commissar”; and the King’s Counsel became the “Politbureau”.

But the essentials were the same, although far more brutal and inefficient than the ancient system, and with incomparably more suffering and oppression.. Property rights were abolished and all land was owned by the state, which meant the Communist Party, which meant the General Secretary and his Commissars (or sometimes just the General Secretary, as the final state of communism is one man rule).

Socialists, who feel they belong naturally to a superior ruling class, are horrified at the idea of ordinary working people having title deed to their own property. They feel they are too stupid and venal. In England, the middle class politicians of the Labour Party felt that they had the right to own their own houses but that the workers should rent from the council. They were outraged when Margaret Thatcher let working class tenants buy their council houses and become property owners.

Apartheid, a form of National Socialism (I’m not for a moment comparing it with Hitler’s party), confused these issues. All whites, down to the lowest workers, were allowed to own their own properties. Blacks in the “white” areas could not own land and there was confusion in the “homelands”. The result today is startling and iniquitous. If you drive past a white suburb on your left and a black township on your right, you know that the whites have title deed to where they live and the blacks do not. If the government has to expropriate property where whites are living, to build a road for example, the white residents will be compensated. If it has to expropriate property where blacks are living without formal title, they will not be compensated. The ANC seems content with this. It has made no effort to allow poor black people to be freehold property owners. In its land reform program, it does not give blacks title deed to the land it awards them. They remain tenants, almost like serfs.

Some years ago I was discussing this with a black colleague, highly intelligent, with a science degree. I said I thought every poor black individual in South Africa who was without property should be given free by the state a piece of land with full title deed to do with as he pleased. He was shocked. He said it was a mad idea.

Now comes the strange case of the Ingonyama Trust land. This land deal happened a few months before the 1994 election. The deal was probably done to encourage Prince Buthelezi to join the election, which he had been boycotting. There is irony here. Buthelezi did more than any other man to defy apartheid when he refused to accept “independence” for the Zululand Bantustan. In the Transkei, on the contrary, Kaiser Mathanzima, very much part of the ANC family, did accept independence in 1976, thereby giving apartheid its greatest victory. In 1994 the national Party awarded the Ingonyama lands to the traditional authorities. This must have had the tacit approval of the ANC since at that stage the NP was so bound by the ANC that it could not act without its sanction. And now Julius Malema and the EFF have given their full approval to Ingonyama, which is completely consistent with their Marxist beliefs. Lenin and his commissars, King John and his barons, and King Goodwill and his chiefs all belong to the same system of land ownership.

The EFF manifesto says all land should be owned by the state. Individuals will only be allowed to live on it if the state approves of how they are using it. This is the same as in feudal Europe. One can imagine the scene if the EFF came to power. Sir Julius Malema, in his latest gleaming SUV imported from Europe, would arrive at the property where some black serf was living. He would honk his horn to summon the serf (the legend is that “honky” was derived from the habit of white plantation owners in USA to honk from their cars to summon the black workers from their shacks). When the black minion appeared he would say to him, “I say, we don’t like the way you’re using this land. Get out by the end of the month. Now excuse me, I’ve got to address a meeting on the workers’ revolution.”

The ANC, under President Cyril Ramaphosa, has called for “Expropriation Without Compensation”. Is this just a ploy to outflank the EFF or is it a preliminary announcement that the ANC will follow the example of Robert Mugabe (a hero to the ANC and the EFF) and seize white-owned land or is part of some strategy to take over lands now not in productive use? Nobody knows. Will the ANC ruin the economy for the sake of winning votes and gaining applause throughout Africa for fighting imperialism. Nobody is sure.

For the last 30 years the economic policies of the ANC have been inconsistent, uncertain and confused. But the deeper philosophy has always been the same: African Nationalism and Marxism. The ANC is consistent in hating business. It consistently identifies the private sector as the enemy. It always makes it as difficult as possible to start up businesses, to hire and fire workers, and to invest in the economy. The recent mining charter, which will reduce and perhaps end South Africa’s once lucrative mining economy, is very much part of the trend.

So is the ANC’s dislike of private property rights.


Andrew Kenny. 10 July 2018

Andrew Kenny is a contracted columnist to the Institute of Race Relations (IRR, a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you support what we stand for and would like to see more of our writing in the media, join us here.


1. The Communist Manifesto and Magna Carta are freely available from the internet – and so is the EFF’s Party Manifesto.

2. To get some insight into chimpanzee territorial behavior, I recommend “Chimpanzee”, a remarkable documentary commissioned by Walt Disney. It tells the story of an infant chimp caught up in horrible wars between rival chimp clans. The story is somewhat fabricated by Disney in a not very successful attempt to lessen the brutal and precarious nature of chimp society but all the scenes are real and accurate, sometimes wonderfully affectionate, sometimes awful. The worst violence has been censored out.

3. There are three types of chimpanzee: the Common Chimpanzee, the Bonobo and hominids, of which we are the sole surviving species. The writer and scientist, Jared Diamond, has called us “The Third Chimpanzee”.