Those who own a property have the right to continue owning that property, and what they do with their justly owned and acquired property is entirely their own look-out.
If you happen to be the owner of a unique piece of art, say the Mona Lisa, and you decide to set fire to it, then that is a terrible tragedy, but it is your property. No government should ever have the right to intervene.
Apartheid in South Africa was a crime against humanity. You can argue the reasons. Some say that it was racial prejudice translating into attempted genocide. Others that it was a violation of human rights of equality and justice.
My take is that Apartheid got its start with the denial of property rights; that one group of people gave themselves a greater right to property than they did to others. This spurious belief was used to boot black South Africans off their land and replace them with politically chosen beneficiaries of “land reform”.
The new South African government, after 1994, began a tortuous process of their own “land reform” in which the original owners of land – often dispersed and with limited proof of title – would be able to receive a fair hearing and just compensation. So far so good.
However, the new government, at pains to bring about a transformation of the economy, chose to use this process as a way of ensuring that the majority of agricultural land should be owned by black people in toto.
The government is purchasing land for this purpose and then settling people on it. Instead of just receiving restitution for the property that was stolen from them, victorious claimants were set up as small-scale cooperative farmers. These new farmers are not allowed to sell the land they have been given. They have no title to it and have become no more than indentured peasant farmers; slaves at the pleasure of the state.
The government pegged their success on the financial success of these subsistence farms. It has been an abject failure.
The people being settled on these farms are now several generations away from the original land-owning farmers. They have no experience of agriculture, or of how technical the profession has become. Many of them don’t even want to be there.
“More than 21 properties in the Empangeni and Eshowe districts, and reportedly many more across KZN bought by the land affairs department, lie fallow, producing only weeds, dead trees and choked sugar cane,” according to the Natal Mercury.
The response from the Minister of Agriculture, Lulu Xingwana, has been total fury. “I have instructed my directors-general to implement, with immediate effect, the principle of use it or lose it,” Xingwana. “Those who do not use the land must immediately be removed and the land must be given to emerging farmers and co-operatives.”
In other words, people who had their land stolen from them by one government, who decided that they weren’t deserving enough of their property, are to have their land stolen from them again by another government which has decided that they are still “not worthy”.
The first and only objective of land restitution is just recompense for people who had their property stolen. It was a mistake forcing land as compensation on people who did not want to own land. They should have been given money. Whatever they chose to do with that money would have been their own choice.
Instead of accepting the restitution process for what it is, government wants a trophy. They demand that beneficiaries of the process demonstrate their gratitude to the state by performing and delivering successful agricultural businesses.
That is an outrageous demand and entirely unacceptable. What’s next? Snatching private businesses from entrepreneurs who fail to employ an appropriate number of people?
Enough. Government made the mistake of conflating two independent objectives and is now compounding their error by abusing property rights. Farmers will always be in the minority of both businesses and land-owners. Whether those properties are owned by black-skinned people or white-skinned people is immaterial, and should be immaterial to a liberal democracy.
The only matter of importance is whether their property was acquired without force or fraud. Something that governments are supposed to ensure.