South Africa’s lamentable lurch towards the uncompensated seizure of private property has, rightly and predictably, earned critical national, and now international, attention.
The ruling ANC’s shift towards a constitutional amendment allowing it to expropriate land without paying compensation has prompted a warning from the Wall Street Journal that “(s)eizing private property has produced misery everywhere it has been tried. South Africans don’t need more of that.”
In fact, South Africans don’t want it either.
Comprehensive opinion polls commissioned by the IRR have repeatedly shown that most black South Africans have little interest in land reform.
In the IRR's 2016 field survey, only 1% of black respondents (down from 2% the previous year) said that 'more land reform' was the 'best way to improve lives'. By contrast, 73% of black people saw 'more jobs and better education' as the 'best way' for them to get ahead.
Similarly, in the IRR's 2017 field survey, only 1% of black respondents identified 'speeding up land reform' as a top priority for the government.
Even among people who lost land under apartheid laws, most chose cash compensation in preference to having land restored to them.
Of the roughly 76 000 successful claims in post-apartheid South Africa’s restitution process, begun in 1994, only about 5 800 chose to have land returned to them. The remaining 92% preferred cash compensation instead.
Similar results emerged from a comprehensive September 2017 opinion survey, which was commissioned by independent television station eNCA and carried out among some 5 000 people, including roughly 2 700 self-declared ANC voters. Even among these ANC voters, most people wanted ‘more pro-business policies’, rather than ‘more radical policies/redistribution’.
Claims by President Cyril Ramaphosa that ordinary South Africans have an ‘urgent’ hunger for farming land – and that it is this demand which is pushing the ANC into changing the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation – should be taken with a bucketful of salt.
Yet, ANC MPs joined in approving, by 241-83 votes, a motion by the Economic Freedom Fighters to begin the process to amend the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation.
The IRR has long warned that this is a recipe for disaster that South Africa can do without.
Dr Anthea Jeffery, is Head of Policy Research at the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank which promotes political and economic freedom.