SO YOU think the property to which you have committed 20 years of your life paying for is safe?

Unfortunately, three draft laws are floating around which, should they become statutes, have the capacity to change forever the belief that property is sacrosanct.

They are the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, the Property Valuation Bill and the Expropriation Bill, all of 2013 and at the stage where the responsible departments collect comments and then tinker with them a bit before sending them to the Cabinet for approval. In other words, they are not (yet) in the parliamentary net.

I attended a presentation recently by Anthea Jeffrey, the South African Institute of Race Relations’ head of special research, and have since read a paper she prepared for publication. These three bills, read together, hand to the state the power to expropriate pretty well anything it likes — not just land such as farms, but also mines, factories, shopping centres and your house if it is deemed necessary.

Of course, the African National Congress will tell us it has no intention of doing any such thing.

It will blow smoke endlessly in an effort to quieten disturbed elements of the populace.

But if it isn’t going to do these things, why are the bills necessary?

The restitution bill wants to move the cut-off for lodging land claims from December 1998 to December 2018, giving those who feel like taking a chance (at no cost) another five years to do it.

So it’s worth looking at what happened previously: many claims submitted were false, some were duplications, officials inflated claims (on one occasion from six to 600), and 92% of claimants who were successful took the money rather than the land. Jeffrey warns that this time round "some of the claims are again likely to be false or inflated, especially now that verification has largely been abandoned."

The Property Valuation Bill gives us yet another state official (plus the accompanying department).

We are going to get a "valuer-general" who will be required to act without fear, favour or prejudice. We’ve heard that before. The valuer-general will be "accountable to the minister", who also appoints him. This makes claims that he will be independent rather hollow.

In valuing property the valuer-general must look at its current use, its history, whether any state subsidies were used for its acquisition or capital improvements, and the purpose of the expropriation. The tough part is what an owner has to go through if he disagrees with the valuation.

First, he could be chucked off the property while awaiting the outcome of his objections. He must lodge an objection with the valuer-general. If that doesn’t work he must appeal to a valuation review committee, also selected by the minister, which hears the objection behind closed doors and doesn’t have to explain its findings.

 If it comes into being it’ll be the South African equivalent of England’s 15th-century Star Chamber. Only after the owner has jumped through these hoops can he approach the courts.

If this has you worried, here’s the terrifying part. Jeffrey says the Expropriation Bill "gives the power to expropriate not only to all municipalities and government departments but also to hundreds of organs of state". You have to be kidding. Well, no, I’m not.

This Expropriation Bill allows the authority that wants the property to take it simply by giving the owner notice, enables it to decide the date on which it will pay compensation, and says compensation only becomes payable when the amount has been agreed or decided by the courts.

The bills are needed, says the government, to speed up land reform and remove the barrier created by the willing seller-willing buyer principle. Agri SA disputes this. It reckons farmers get only about 60% of the market value because the state "bullies" them into accepting its offer.

As an aside almost, the leader of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), Irvin Jim, thinks this is nowhere near enough.

Numsa plans a campaign that will reach a climax in September when members will be asked to vote on whether the property clause in the constitution should be repealed.

This is an Irvin Jim frolic. I cannot believe the removal of protection of property rights from the constitution would succeed.

It is probably fair to presume that Numsa’s programme is designed to hasten the national democratic revolution, to which the ruling tripartite alliance is committed.

In fact, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party openly identify the national democratic revolution as the quickest route to their version of socialism.


HOW much do you value the country’s MPs (in the sense that Parliament means the National Assembly)?

I have heard the members of the majority party described as "sleeping stampers" — when awake they rubber-stamp everything that the African National Congress tells them to approve.

But the more important question is do members of the House deserve the salaries they earn?

The Economist has conducted an exercise to determine what legislators around the world are paid, relative to the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of their respective countries.

It found Nigerian legislators are the ultimate fat cats — they earn 116 times the country’s GDP per person. Kenyan parliamentarians, who tried to get their pay increased recently from $75,000 to a cool $120,000, walk off with 76 times the average GDP per capita.

South Africans aren’t shabby in the pay stakes either.

Our MPs, says The Economist, earn $104,000 a year, 14 times more than this country’s average GDP per person. South Africa is fifth-highest on a list of 29 countries surveyed.

Norwegian MPs, on $138,000 a year, are last on the list — they get less than twice the average of their country’s GDP per person.

If the argument advanced is that you need the best and brightest to govern the country, then by and large parliamentarians don’t do at all badly. Whether they’re really the best and brightest is a matter for conjecture.