US congressional hearing flags property rights threat to SA democracy

Expropriation without compensation (EWC) was flagged as a major risk to South Africa’s democracy at a congressional hearing in the United States last week.

Expropriation without compensation (EWC) was flagged as a major risk to South Africa’s democracy at a congressional hearing in the United States last week.

The hearing, which focused on the relationship between South Africa and the United States, opened with a clear warning from the meeting’s chairman, Congressman John James, who said: ‘There is no country in the world that has remained democratic after removing its population’s private property rights and I remain concerned about the ANC’s democratic drift away from constitutional rule.’

Currently, the most prominent example of the attack on the property rights of South Africans is the policy of Expropriation without Compensation (EWC), which the ANC government seeks to implement by passing a deeply flawed Expropriation Bill.

As the IRR noted in its submission to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), the Expropriation Bill allows a multitude of organs of state to seize land without compensation under an open-ended list of circumstances that can be expanded at will.

Current entries in the list include investment properties that the owner has bought in the hope that they will appreciate in value, as well as ‘abandoned’ properties over which the owner has lost control. ‘Losing control’ over one’s property is a real risk in South Africa, where law enforcement is often missing in action or apathetic.

In its current version, the Expropriation Bill also allows potentially hundreds of organs of state to expropriate property without a prior court order. An expropriated owner can dispute the expropriation after the fact – but that is an expensive and uncertain exercise that few will be able to embark on, especially after having already lost their property.

Furthermore, the Expropriation Bill allows the state to pay compensation only after the property has been expropriated, and potentially long after. Given that the South African government has a reputation for paying late, this is a considerable risk that has so far received insufficient attention.

The government’s EWC drive also places at risk South Africa’s eligibility for duty-free access to the United States market under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

The very first AGOA eligibility requirement is that a sub-Saharan African country must have established, or be making continual progress toward establishing, ‘a market-based economy that protects private property rights’. A country that enables EWC does not protect private property rights, but rather undermines them.

Said IRR CEO John Endres: ‘Property rights form the very bedrock of democracy. Congressman James was right to flag the risk that policies such as EWC pose to South Africa’s young democracy. We trust that South African lawmakers who support our democracy will heed the warning.’

The IRR has opposed the ANC’s push for EWC since its inception and continues to do so. To find out more and support the IRR, visit

Media contact: Hermann Pretorius, IRR Head of Strategic Communications Tel: +2779 875 4290 Email:

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