Over at Samizdata, there has been an ignorant and racist discussion of South Africa’s land reform policies. Now I don’t throw the term ‘racist’ around lightly – I’ll explain below why I consider the comments there to be racist. But first let’s deal with the substantive issue.
South African Land Reform
South Africa has a land reform policy in three distinct parts:
A person or community dispossessed of property after 19 June 1913 as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled either to restitution of that property, or to equitable redress. 68,000 claims were lodged before the deadline (end of 1998), to be arbitrated by a Land Claims Court, overseen by a Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights. After a slow start, more than 62,000 of the claims have now been settled.
The redistribution program, which is separate from restitution, is a policy to increase land ownership by black people by transferring 30% of arable agricultural land. The government provides help to communities and individuals to enable them to buy land from existing land holders on a willing-buyer-willing-seller basis, by providing grants to enable the purchase of land (requiring a matching contribution from the buyer). So far, 3% of land has been transferred.
- Tenure reform
A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to tenure which is legally secure, or to comparable redress.
Last Thursday, the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights announced that it would serve an expropriation notice on Hannes Visser, the owner of a cattle and arable farm in North West province. This will be the first time that compulsory purchase, rather than a willing-seller sale, has been used to conclude a restitution claim. The farm was once part of four parcels owned by the Molamu family, which was forced to sell under the apartheid government’s policy of stripping blacks of land and moving them into townships and "homelands." Descendants of the Molamus filed a claim seeking restitution.
There is an important distinction between the restitution policy, which is a time-limited, quasi-judicial process to restore land to people who had it removed from them under apartheid’s racist land laws, and the program of redistribution, which is an entirely willing-seller process to buy up land to rebalance land ownership in South Africa.
It is a testament to the skill and patience of the South African government that the vast majority of land restitution claims have, until now, been settled without any recourse to compulsory purchase, either by buying out the current owners of the land, or by compensating the claimant in other ways. It is a pity that, in this case, it has not been possible to reach settlement on this basis. In these circumstances, compulsory purchase is apparently the only option remaining to restore to the Molamu family the land that was stolen from them under apartheid. But the decision to use the legal powers force a sale of the land, to return it to its original owners, has nothing to do with the more general policy of land redistribution (for which there are no such powers).
And yet the reports on the BBC, CNN,and Voice of America, as well in blogs such as Samizdata, (and blogs here, here, here, here, here and here ) have wilfully ignored this distinction. They have all written about the proposed compulsory purchase of Mr Visser’s farm as if it were part of the land redistribution program. (An honourable mention for Aural Fixations who makes the distinction).
Many of us – including, you might think, some of the bloggers linked above, believe that property rights are an essential component of a functioning economy and a fundamental right in a free society. And yet when a democratically-elected Government in South Africa attempts to enforce and protect property rights by restoring to people the land that they owned and had taken away from them by racist land laws, in a time-limited program overseen by the courts, and as they are required to do by the Constitution of South Africa, we hear complaints from the conservatives and right wing free marketeers. It seems that they believe that property rights are only for white folks.
"I’m not a racist but …"
Which brings me to my accusation that the bloggers and some of the commenters at Samizdata are racist. Wherever you find right wing libertarians, racists are not far behind. When I was a student, the Federation of Conservative Students, hard-line libertarians who supported legalization of hard drugs, distributed badges that said "Hang Mandela". Now they and their type peddle their racism at Samizdata.
Here are some comments on the blog post that I consider to be racist:
"I have no problem talking about the idiocy, as I see it, of some black attitudes"
"Let them take over the land, run it into the ground (run land into the ground?), and starve themselves right out of the gene pool."
"Prior to the arrival of the eeeevil colonialists in Africa, property belonged to the warlord with the best warriors."
"Farming done in the African manner (eg. Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique) does not have a sterling track record, "
"African cultures haven’t adopted the idea of national identity."
"given the near-total lack of respect for property rights and the rule of law in Africa"
"They’ll barbecue the dairy cows, and then come to the West holding out the begging bowl. This is either a racist statement, or else a pretty conservative prediction"
If anyone posted that sort of bile on comments here, I’d delete it. We should have zero tolerance of racism, period. Whoever operates the Samizdata site should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this sort of stuff.
It will make no difference to anything but for what it is worth I’ve removed the link to Samizdata from my blogroll. There are some serious people who blog at Samizdata (such as Alex Singleton from the Globalization Institute): I hope that they will insist that this sort of racism is not tolerated there, or dissociate themselves from the site.
date 25th September: I’ve amended this post to give some of the background to South African land reform.
In the meantime, Tim reckons – see the comments – that "property belonged to the warlord with the best warriors." and "Farming done in the African manner does not have a sterling track record," are both statements of fact. Both are complete rubbish – they are the fantasies of white colonialists who know nothing about the countries they occupied. And I don’t care who said them: they are clearly racist, as are the other comments which Tim doesn’t even try to defend.