Radical ANC legislation: NHI bill is just the tip of the iceberg – Katzenellenbogen

President Ramaphosa is signing the NHI Bill today, aiming to nationalise healthcare, which critics fear will lead to corruption and mismanagement. The ANC is also pushing the Expropriation without Compensation (EWC) Bill and the Hate Speech Act, raising concerns about property rights and free speech. These laws might be challenged in the Constitutional Court, but the process is lengthy, leaving the country in uncertainty.

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By Jonathan Katzenellenbogen*

This afternoon President Cyril Ramaphosa will sign the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill into law. The law will ultimately try to bring the entire healthcare sector under government control, and end what the President has called “healthcare apartheid.”

The NHI Bill, the Expropriation without Compensation (EWC) Bill, once signed, and the Prevention of Hate Speech Act could give the ANC government many of the tools it needs to push toward its vision of nirvana and lead the country into disaster. It is likely that the ANC sees an immense electoral gold mine in these laws.

This set of laws might be successfully challenged in the Constitutional Court, but that might take a long time.

In the event that the ANC finds itself needing a coalition with the Democratic Alliance (DA) and other members of the Multi-Party Charter, implementation of these laws might be put on hold. There is no way that the DA, with its Multi-Party Charter allies, could be part of a coalition government that seeks to implement property seizures, a disastrous healthcare system, and hate speech laws that could be used against political opponents.

At the least, the DA would have to secure a coalition agreement with the ANC that explicitly rules out implementation of these laws.

But an ANC under pressure might still rush to use these laws.

Read more: Ramaphosa’s empty promises: Can he be trusted? – Ivo Vegter

Share of the vote

The ANC is very unlikely to retain the 57 percent share of the vote that it received in 2019. If it receives slightly above 50 percent, it will try to rapidly implement these laws in an attempt to build support.  If it receives slightly less than 50 percent on May 29th, it will secure a majority with small parties that are likely to go ahead with its radical transformation policies.

And if it needs the ‘comrade’ parties – uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), to form a coalition, these parties might well insist on the rapid implementation of these laws. After all, they will want to claim that they are behind the implementation of such legislation.

The NHI bill was presented to the President for signature in December last year. Could he have waited all this time to sign the bill when it could have maximum electoral impact? With an election only a fortnight away, promises of free and improved healthcare delivery look a lot more convincing if the President is seen signing the NHI bill on the TV evening news.

The NHI project will substantially change how healthcare is delivered in this country. Private medicine as we know it will come to an end. Doctors in private practice will be paid by the state and medical schemes will only be able to offer cover for procedures that are not provided by the government. Doctors fear the threat to their livelihoods, and business is worried about what the Act will mean for private health providers and medical scheme members.

Much of the reason for the anxiety is the fear that a state-controlled healthcare sector would follow the path of government departments that have fallen into a morass of corruption and mismanagement. Many of our doctors would feel forced to emigrate.

Ismail Joosub, Legal Officer of Constitutional Programmes at the FW de Klerk Foundation calls the NHI Bill, “an unconstitutional, unworkable, and unaffordable healthcare plan.”

Read more: Be cautious of Thabo Mbeki nostalgia: Terrence Corrigan

Hate speech

Last week the President signed into law the Hate Speech Bill – the Preventing and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. The Bill has been criticised by the country’s liberal campaigning think tanks: the FW de Klerk Foundation, the Institute of Race Relations, and the Helen Suzman Foundation, which have argued that the definition of hate speech is far too broad, and the Act undermines freedom of expression. They argue that the Act’s definition of harm due to hate speech is far too wide, and could mean perfectly ordinary statements could easily be prosecuted.

With the President signing the NHI Bill today, we could soon see him signing the bill which will allow EWC. The EWC Bill was sent to the President for signature last month, and the signing ceremony will allow the ANC to show in its campaign that it sticks to its promises about land redistribution. Once signed, the Act would threaten all property rights. It is bound to substantially dampen investment.

Signing of the EWC bill will be sold as a sign that the party is true to the Freedom Charter and its promises of land redistribution. And the Hate Speech Act will be used to show the party is prepared to crack down hard on racism.

When all three pieces of legislation are in force, the party will be able to ensure greater government control, and, in the process, reduce freedom of expression and choice. And in time, if we head toward a less democratic future, there is always a real threat that the EWC Bill, once signed into law, and the Hate Speech Act will be used to harass political opponents.

Public participation

Public participation has helped push back against other bills which have demonstrated ANC attempts at state overreach. The intervention by the FW de Klerk Foundation, the Helen Suzman Foundation, and the Institute of Race Relations, as well as others, has resulted in the deletion of pernicious aspects of the recently passed Intelligence, Basic Education, and Employment Equity  Amendment Bills.

As a result of the public outcry, the provisions of the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill that would have given the security agencies wide powers to investigate religious bodies and non-governmental organisations for vetting purposes have been scrapped. The powers of school governing bodies have been restored in the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, after a protest against the centralisation of power in the hands of provincial heads of education. AfriForum was particularly concerned that school governing bodies should retain the right to determine language policy. Private groups also successfully brought pressure to bear for the exclusion of tight racial targets for employment by a wide range of industries in the initial draft of the Employment Equity Bill.

While these three cases show that public participation can be effective, in the case of the three most radical pieces of legislation pushed through by the ruling party so far, no account was taken of the dire warnings that were given.

Read more: Ramaphosa denies that pause in load-shedding is linked to election

Protest

And even in the face of protest, administrative law can be used to pursue the ANC agenda. The government body that regulates estate agents, the Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority, insists that all estate agents have a black empowerment certificate. That would require small sole proprietorships and mom and pop operations, some of which do little business, to have a black ownership level of above 50 percent.

Challenges in the Constitutional Court to the three pieces of legislation could save us from the radical transformation laws. But that could take a long time.  In the meantime, we must live with  deep uncertainty over the future of healthcare and over what properties might be seized.

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*Jonathan Katzenellenbogen is a Johannesburg-based freelance financial journalist.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

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