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06/07/2018 12:37 SAST | Updated 06/07/2018 12:45 SAST

From The Heart: A Public Letter To The President On Expropriation Without Compensation

'A threat to property rights cuts to the heart of a free society, the confidence in its economy and the scope of individuals to live as they choose.'

IRR website

The first-person voice — the "I" we use to speak from the heart — is the deliberately familiar register of the latest document the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) is asking South Africans to endorse: a letter addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa on the most pressing issue of our time.

The subject is, of course, land expropriation without compensation — a looming policy decision the effects of which, if unchecked, will reach far beyond the mealie fields and cattle pens of South Africa's remote rural districts.

It will be felt in boardrooms and backyard shacks, in leafy suburbs and informal settlements on the periphery of cities, because a threat to property rights cuts to the heart of a free society, the confidence in its economy and the scope of individuals to live as they choose.

The opening paragraph of this letter to the president on behalf of all who will sign it expresses what the IRR is convinced is the shared conviction, and the worry, of millions of South Africans:

"I am a proud South African," it reads, "who does everything I can to make our country succeed. There are millions of people just like me who work tirelessly and invest our hard-earned money and skills in building the economy, creating new enterprises, and providing the jobs and opportunities our country needs to pull millions of people out of poverty and unemployment. But your threat to expropriate what we have worked for without compensation will make it difficult for me to continue doing that. I don't know how the government expects us to continue taking risks and investing so much of ourselves in creating a better future, when it could all be taken away."

Part and parcel of this commitment, the IRR is equally convinced, is a desire among most South Africans for a land reform process that is effective and economically viable, and which extends rather than removes rights to the property.

As the letter puts it: "I find it difficult to believe that the government's commitment to expropriation without compensation is about a sincere commitment to land reform. If the government cared about supporting black commercial farmers, it would finance them and give them title to their own farms. But the IRR has shown that the government is spending more on VIP protection and bailouts for state-owned companies than on land reform. Furthermore, the property the government intends to take will not be given to black people, but held by the state. It has been shown that it would be perfectly possible within current budget constraints to support successful black commercial farmers by allowing them title and proper financial support for their farms, but that even the government's own agricultural bank is not providing that support."

The letter to the president is the third wave of the IRR's campaign against expropriation without compensation. More than 60,000 committed South Africans rallied to the call to stop such expropriation by endorsing the institute's submission to Parliament, and senior IRR staff launched an international campaign in June in Europe and America, building global support for property rights in South Africa.

In launching the letter to Ramaphosa, the IRR seeks to capture the anxieties but also the hopes of ordinary people, who number in the millions and spend their working day doing their best to help South Africa succeed.

The letter levels with the president on this issue: "South Africans want to work together to build a better country. In the first decade after 1994, we were doing that and I am proud of what we achieved. Over that decade, the number of people with jobs increased very quickly and the living standards of all South Africans were rising. The government claimed credit for that, but it was also thanks to the hard work of ordinary people and the tax they paid that made it all possible. South Africa's politicians tend to forget that many middle-class people will work from January to mid-May before they earn a single rand for themselves. Everything they earn until that point goes to support their fellow South Africans.

"Nothing would make me happier than to build a future in which all our children can live together in a prosperous and stable society. But your expropriation policy will deny us that future."

"But over the past decade, our country's leaders sabotaged the trajectory we had been on. The tax paid by so many hard-working people — rich and poor — was wasted or stolen. Investors were chased away, and it became harder to start a business and to create or find jobs. On a per capita basis, the trend of the first decade after 1994 was reversed and South Africans became poorer. So serious is the damage done that the government has even increased the VAT rate, placing an even greater burden on ordinary people. And with respect, you were in that government for all those years, so I do not want to be told that the problem today is that ordinary people, black and white, do not do enough to create a better future."

The letter concludes with a plea: "I am one of the millions of people who remain strongly committed to rebuilding the country and doing everything I can to create opportunities for my fellow South Africans. Nothing would make me happier than to build a future in which all our children can live together in a prosperous and stable society. But your expropriation policy will deny us that future. Please hear us and do not adopt a policy of expropriation without compensation."

The IRR will deliver this letter with its endorsements to the president's office at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Michael Morris is the head of media at the Institute of Race Relations, a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Go here to read the letter to the president in full.