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South Africa Considers Legislation That Would Allow the State to Seize Any Citizen’s Property

Many of us sit in our homes under “stay at home” or “quarantine” orders during this Coronavirus Pandemic.  Have any of us thought – what if we did not have rights to have that roof over our head?  We know that there are homeless in the United States.  Right now on any given night 553,742 Americans are homeless, but that number represents 0.2% of the U.S. population.  Those of you that have a roof over your head – whether you own it or not – what if you had no rights to have any property and it could be taken from you with no cause by the Government that you serve, instead of the Government that serves you.  South Africa has a proposed bill that would do just that.

The proposal indicates a desire on the part of many in the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), and the socialist so-called Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), to place South Africa squarely on paths similar to those followed by Venezuela and our neighbors to the north, Zimbabwe. Once enacted, the bill will result in a similar state of affairs to that which black South Africans were forced to endure under apartheid: a fundamental lack of security in their property, with the persistent threat of state seizure hanging over the entire population.

Expropriation without compensation will not achieve that redress because it will dilute the property rights of black South Africans, wiping away the progress made since apartheid ended. The move towards no-compensation expropriation hearkens back to a time when South African society was partitioned into racial groups. How one could live, worship, trade, and work was determined by the whims of officials in government.

The bill will empower state officials to seize any citizen’s property. This kind of power for the state betrays the constitutional objective of limiting government power, increases arbitrariness in the Constitution itself, and thus strongly undermines the rule of law. A weakening of property rights results in a weakening of the rule of law, a crucial institution South Africa needs for any sort of future prosperity.

South Africa’s economy and international reputation have been damaged significantly by state capture of a large part of the economy, which took place during the tenure of the former president, Jacob Zuma. As a result, projected growth for 2020 is a low 0.7 percent.

Secure property rights are essential for economic growth and progress in the developed world. With GDP growth hovering around one percent in South Africa, Parliament cannot afford to enact legislation that will fundamentally shake investor confidence by weakening the protection of their rights currently provided by the Constitution.

While the EFF and ANC political parties have pushed for the amendment, this move would be immoral no matter which party originated it. The bill will make it possible for any government in the future to expropriate the property of those it sees as enemies of “progress,” the “revolution,” or simply nuisances standing in the way of political goals. No political party or coalition of parties should have this level of power over people’s lives.

The path of fewer or weaker individual rights is not the correct one for South Africa or any country, including the United States of America.  Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  Remember, to always be thankful for the rights that you have, as those are they rights that allow the Citizens of the United States to prosper and to have that roof over their head during this pandemic.  However remember that if you are willing to give up your rights to your government, when do the law makers stop serving you and you start serving them?

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