Stealing land

The Green Paper on Land Reform has been widely criticised in the media. However, quite apart from the mainstream� arguments that focus on the substantive issues it raises, my objection to the Green Paper relates to the tone, or language, used.

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Many criticisms of the Green Paper address the unconstitutionality of its proposals. One example of this is the establishment of a body of civil servants to assess land use and another body to evaluate farm property.

These would be unconstitutional if such bodies circumvented the authority of a court to review any case.
These and other arguments certainly seem valid. But the objection to the Green Paper I’ll discuss relates to the tone, or language, used in it.

The Green Paper proposes “the crafting of a new pragmatic but fundamentally altered land tenure system for the country”. In other words, as I see it, the abolition of true ownership rights relating to farming land – at least for white Africans.

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The paper speaks of the taking of land by “deceit” and by force by colonists. Clearly, then, white title holders are the target of the proposals.

However, if we look at the Constitution of South Africa and examine the history of its drafting, we find that 34 “constitutional principles” emerged from the negotiations, each one of which was a potential deal-breaker.

Those principles became the basis upon which the interim and then the final Constitution was drafted.
There seems to be a naïve faith among otherwise rational South Africans that the country’s rulers act in terms of general constitutional norms by default.

A reading of the Green Paper and reports in the media that relate the utterances of various government ministers would indicate otherwise, however.

Peter O’Halloran is head of tax at BDO, Gaborone. Call 00267 390 2779 or email [email protected] with the heading “Farmer’s Weekly tax issues”.