Friday, February 27, 2004

Namibia, and South Africa, are to start expropriating farms in order to accelerate the land redistribution process. Thus far, in both countries, land redistribution has been conducted on a "willing seller-willing buyer" basis. Both governments insist that the new powers of expropriation will be exercised in accordance with the law, and that fair compensation will be paid. They also claim that the "willing seller-willing buyer" principle will remain the dominant approach, and that expropriation will only be used in a more limited number of cases.

In my younger days, I'd probably have been suspicious of this policy, which will no doubt prove hard on those farmers targeted. But there are lessons to be learnt from our northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, and one of these is that undue concentration of resources in the hands of an ethnic minority can, in the long-term, prove to be a source of instability, or at least an issue liable to be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians. The lesson to be drawn is that it is in the long-term interests of both Namibia and South Africa that the land question be addressed (as noted below, one of Mugabe's chief failings was that he never seriously got to grips with the issue).

For this reason, I'm quite prepared to give this measure the benefit of the doubt, provided that fair compensation is paid, farmers are accorded standard public law guarantees (they should be entitled to a hearing ect), and farms are expropriated, not in order to settle political scores, or enrich party members (as was the case in Zimbabwe), but in order to re-settle people who have a genuine claim to the land. In South Africa, and, I imagine, Namibia, an independent judiciary, and a developed system of administrative law, should ensure that this is the case.

I should also mention that, in the South African context, I find fears about the constitutionality of the policy rather overblown, given that the Bill of Rights (s25.2) expressly allows for expropriation, provided that it is in the public interest (which this clearly is), and fair compensation is paid (which both governments have undertaken to do).

P.S. For an amusing take on this, from the far-right of the US political spectrum, look at this, which our friends at Commentary managed to dig up.

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