Editorials 1.3.2018 06:45 am

Land issue is a ticking time bomb

Picture: AFP /GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

Picture: AFP /GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

It should be apparent to all – even to the most rabid populists – that an uncontrolled land grab could devastate this country.

Is it time to start panicking – if you are a land or property owner – about this week’s parliamentary motion, which set the balling rolling on land acquisition without compensation?

Some organisations such as AfriBusiness, which is advising members to start hedging if they are property owners, are already sounding alarm bells. We wonder if that is justified at this early stage.

It is difficult to tell which way the process of expropriation will develop, but there have been indications from key players that land will not be seized willy-nilly as it was in Zimbabwe … and which contributed to a collapse in agricultural income and, in turn, that country’s economy.

The EFF’s Julius Malema, for example, had promised that expropriation will only be aimed at farmland, not residential and commercial property.

The ANC, under President Cyril Ramaphosa, has made comforting noises about ensuring any expropriation is done in an orderly manner.

Behind all the posturing is the reality of the constitution which, in Section 25, guarantees that property cannot be taken away from people without compensation. Undoubtedly, as the process moves through its various phases, there will be vigorous legal challenges.

On the other hand, it is apparent that the majority of lawmakers in this country, across a range of parties, favour expropriation without compensation. And that majority is enough to change the constitution.

It should be apparent to all – even to the most rabid populists – that an uncontrolled land grab could devastate this country.

Not only will it threaten to collapse the banking industry as farm loan recoveries become impossible, it will also be a red flag for any investor, local or foreign.

Land without jobs or markets is hardly economic freedom. But the land question must be dealt with.

It is a time bomb.

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