Implementing Land Expropriation: It’s the how that matters.

Public policy-making usually starts with ideas and ideologies, presented as necessary to correct past injustices, improve existing conditions, or secure future states of affairs or processes.

It is in the afterglow of an idea or ideological expression when the hard work starts and when, ultimately, policies are evaluated on the basis of implementation and efficacy. Having said that, what is certain is that South African land reform will start in earnest. What remains unclear is how it will, actually, be done.

One political formation seems to be obsessed with racism, ethno-nationalism, rapine and the politics of revenge as the basis for land expropriation. Another would have us continue with as little disruption to the status quo as possible. Yet another, mainly the state, seems to be approaching the issue on the basis of constitutionalism.

Amid it all, at least two positions are emerging. One is that there should be outright land occupation and “expropriation without compensation” and that the state should own all the land with individuals or groups of individuals leasing land. The second is quite vague and suggests that black landowners, most notably “traditional” communities, will not lose their property.

Given the new identitarianism of South Africa – postapartheid South Africa – one can be black on one day, “coloured” the next day and on the third there will be reference to “Indians”. So, it is really difficult to figure out what or who “black” people are.

For instance, I bought and paid for a small plot of land which is probably smaller than the actual built properties owned by EFF multimillionaire advocate Dali Mpofu and significantly smaller than all the property that his extended family own. I should have no concerns.

However, the new identitarianism, (an adaptation of white nationalism now used to define “blackness”, “colouredness” or “Africanness”) means that, as during apartheid, someone else will tell me what “race” I am, whether or not I am African and whether I may hold onto the patch of land.

The reader who wants to get a sense of how ugly this identitarianism is should go online and see the way that neo-nazi Richard Spencer tries to convince British journalist Gary Younge that he (Younge) is not British. (See clip below) We should, of course, understand historical differences, but the very idea that one person or group may determine the identity and rights of another is terribly offensive – and dangerous.

Let us assume, nonetheless, that land expropriation will proceed and that protest is futile. What is unclear is how it will, actually, be achieved. Let us assume that it will be done on the basis of the constitution. Will an official some day walk up to someone’s home in Soweto, Zwide, Bethelsdorp or Summerstrand and say: “We have come to take your house”?

Will the state give all homeowners written notices and deadlines to vacate their properties? If the state wants the land, can homeowners take with them what is on the land, their movable property. It seems to me that more and more people want land as well as what is on the land. Political movements are increasingly demanding forceful occupation of land, without paying for it (which is fine), and then demanding free water and free electricity. Municipalities are already owed billions of rand by people who simply refuse to pay for utilities. This is clearly unsustainable. It also opens up new avenues for conflict.

It was reported at the weekend that land which the state gave former members of uMkontho we Sizwe, the ruling party’s military wing, has become derelict with more than R400,000 in outstanding utility bills.

If we pay attention to populist rhetoric, it is clear that the demand is for free land, free appropriation of what is on the land and free utilities for the rest of time. Here, then, is the nub of policy commitment and implementation. Can or should populism be taken seriously?

We know, of course, that the populists have a following that care naught for evidence or history. They might ignore the pauperisation and humiliation that the nazis inflicted on Jews during World War 2 – starting with appropriation of Jewish property.

In terms of implementation, the rest of us may reflect on two examples. In September 1962, then United States president John F Kennedy told an audience in Houston Texas that his country had decided “to go to the moon”.

Within a decade, in July 1969, US astronauts set foot on the moon.

During the previous decade, in November 1956, the then leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, said: “About the capitalist states, it doesn’t depend on you whether or not we exist.

“If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations and don’t invite us to come to see you.

“Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. “We will bury you!” We know, now, what has become of the old Soviet Union.

One question remains: which example of policy implementation will we follow?

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