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Apartheid thinking lives on as ANC stumbles on black property rights – FMF

JOHANNESBURG — Home ownership and property rights are two vital factors, among many, in successful, free market societies. While several local economists have ascribed South Africa as having one of the highest home ownership levels in the world, the reality is that the figure has the potential to be much higher if government plays its part, according to the Free Market Foundation (FMF). In a series in which the FMF provides alternatives to the various policy discussion planks of the ANC’s 2017 National Policy Conference, the organisation points out how the ANC has failed to be more flexible on property rights when it comes to, for instance, subsistence farmers and RDP residents. – Gareth van Zyl

By the Free Market Foundation*

Radical economic transformation (RET) means exactly that – a radically different approach to policy.

President Zuma puts land reform high on the RET agenda, yet government land policies maintain apartheid era thinking and prevent the real social and radical change required in urban and rural land ownership.

For over 40 years the Free Market Foundation (FMF) has championed the cause of converting the various forms of Apartheid title found in the townships to full, unambiguous ownership for the current tenants.

In Ngwathe, Sarah Baartman municipalities and others the FMF has succeeded in bringing about radical change in the lives of thousands of now-property owners. On May 24, the Atlas Network awarded its prestigious Africa Liberty Award to the FMF in recognition of the FMF’s role in facilitating radical transformation in the economic prospects of South Africa’s poorest citizens and bringing about social transformation by restoring human dignity through home ownership.

Farmers work the land outside Lichtenburg, a maize-growing area in the northwest province of South Africa, in this file picture taken November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/Files

The 1913 Natives Land Act prohibited black South Africans from owning land in so-called ‘white areas’ – restricting the question of land ownership entirely to the ethnic authorities in the reserves, later known as homelands.

Black people in the cities thus lived as tenants on property owned by the local municipality, which developed into what we know today as ‘townships’. Not much has changed.

According to FMF director Jasson Urbach, “The Khaya Lam Project is a living example of a fundamental truth expressed by *Sir John Templeton who said that property rights are essential for human rights.” Urbach continued, “This project is about unlocking the freedom that has been denied to black South Africans for over a century.”

Government’s Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP) homes scheme has been a success in delivering roofs over citizens’ heads. However the unwillingness to give the urban poor property rights still remains in that the “owners” of RDP homes are bound by ‘pre-emptive clauses’ that prohibit them from selling their property for eight years. At the end of this period owners can only sell the RDP home back to government. This is not real ownership – it is a continuation of paternalistic Apartheid thinking.

Restitution of land expropriated during the Apartheid era must be speeded up and finality achieved. Free market economist Murray Rothbard wrote in The Ethics of Liberty that, where property has been acquired illegitimately such as through expropriation without the consent of the owner, that property must be returned to the owner. Government’s policy of redistribution – rather than restitution – of privately owned land amounts to the same kind of land theft perpetrated by the Apartheid regime.

The post-Apartheid land restitution process has been neglected and abused, with government now resorting to emotional blackmail to persuade people into taking back the land, rather than choose compensation, as is the right of any property owner. Government’s goal should be the restoration of property rights – not forcing modern South Africans to become farmers.

Also, the apartheid rural land law must be finally abolished. The Subdivision of Agricultural Land Act is a relic from the past and has meant that small-scale and subsistence farmers cannot easily acquire land. The Act must be repealed.

These measures would deliver radical economic transformation in land reform and in the lives of millions of citizens.

  • Sir John Templeton (1912–2008) was a British investor, philanthropist, and classical liberal who believed in free enterprise, individual freedom, and property rights.
  • The FMF is an independent, non-profit, public benefit organisation, created in 1975 by pro-free market business and civil society national bodies to work for a non-racial, free and prosperous South Africa.
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