Why Land 'Expropriation without Compensation' is a bad idea

On 27 February 2018, the National Assembly made a landmark decision to review Section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in order to cater for the principle of land expropriation without compensation. This follows the decision by the African National Congress (ANC) at its December 2017 conference, where it indicated that it would start the process towards a constitutional amendment of Section 25 to make possible land redistribution without compensation, provided that it is sustainable and does not harm the agricultural sector or the economy. Furthermore, the ANC argued that the proposed approach to land reform would be guided by sound legal and economic principles, and would contribute to the country’s overall job creation and investment objectives. Nonetheless, if the Zimbabwean experience (which, though different from the ANC’s apparent approach also shares some ‘family resemblances’ with it) is not sufficient to proffer some fundamental lessons for South Africa, then it would be prudent to point out a number of facts that should compel policymakers to reconsider the December 2017 policy decision. With the benefit of hindsight, what the Zimbabwean experience tells us is that expropriation without compensation is a catastrophically bad idea.