The South African parliament is considering an amendment to their constitution to allow for “expropriation without compensation” of private property for the purpose of “land reform.” Although apartheid ended in the early 1990s, most South African farmland is still owned by whites, and many in South Africa see land reform as a necessary remedy for past injustices committed by white colonists of Anglo and Dutch origin.
While many pundits have been quarreling over whether 74 farm murders last year constitute “white genocide” (the case is weak at best, given the lack of data), the actual policy debate in the country is deeply disturbing on its own, and shows, regardless of what you think about the farm murders, that racial Marxism threatens to bring an economic and human rights disaster upon South Africa.
There are obvious lessons to learn from what’s happening in South Africa and what happened with Zimbabwe’s land reform, as I shall discuss. But in exploring these events, we must ask an important question: Could a version of South Africa’s or Zimbabwe’s property confiscation ever happen in America?
It’s not far-fetched. Material reparations have long been on the agenda for black social justice activists, and the theory of “white privilege,” which insists that all white wealth and privilege is essentially ill-gotten because all whites participate in and benefit from the so-called “system of oppression” (i.e. capitalism), has been gaining traction in educational institutions over the past several years.
Given the steady erosion of our constitutional liberties at all levels of government, even under Republican leadership, the time to ponder such a morally and materially consequential a possibility as expropriation without compensation — something like a racial application of the power of eminent domain — is now.
Halfway to Forcible Racial Redistribution
Earlier this year I laid out the case for how white privilege theory serves as a door stopper for redistributionist policies, like disparate impact housing policies (distributing housing according to ethnicity), progressive stacking (speech redistribution), and affirmative action (opportunity redistribution). This is because white privilege theory is based on the neo-Marxist worldview. As I explained:
Neo-marxism divides the world between oppressor and oppressed and identifies a system, or systems, by which the oppression takes place. In classical Marxism, the oppressed were the proletariat, the oppressors were the bourgeoisie, and the system of oppression was capitalism. The Marxist framework has been adapted to categorize and pit against each other various group identities, all toward the end of establishing socialism.
Racial Marxism has an even deeper root in South Africa than here. Not long after throwing off the bonds of colonialism did many Africans seek to exchange them for the bonds of Marxism. In search of a new identity, they embraced Marxism and started communist and socialist parties and organizations (Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe belonging to them at one time). Theorist Edna Bonacich explains Marxism’s attraction to people who have suffered directly under racial oppression:
Capitalism is a system that breeds class oppression and national/racial conquest. The two forms of exploitation operate in tandem. They are part of the same system that creates inequality, impoverishment, and all the other host of social ills that result. I believe that you cannot attack racism without attacking capitalism, and you cannot attack capitalism without attacking racism. The two are Siamese twins, joined together from top to bottom.
If Bonacich had any example that “proved” this relationship, it would be South Africa. The Cape was originally settled by the Dutch East India Company, and the Boers and British had a long history of oppressing and enslaving colored residents — in the early years, to profit the company. It should come as no surprise that oppressed, resettled black Africans under apartheid, who heard a white government label them “superfluous to the labor market” and cast them aside like trash, would see capitalism as essentially, racially oppressive and embrace the socialist alternative.
Racial Marxism Undermines Private Property Rights
One of the central tenets of my argument that white privilege theory leads to socialism is the theory’s underlying premise that the wealth and status of white people is ill-gotten because it is generated from a “system of oppression.” Any white adherent to white privilege theory must ask the question: “If what I have is ill-gotten, does it really belong to me? Or do I owe some portion of that to the people I am oppressing?”
South Africans have a stronger claim to the reasonableness of this question than Americans do, given that apartheid ended just a quarter-century ago. By comparison, Americans are 50 years removed from Jim Crow laws and 150 years removed from the end of slavery. The history of apartheid is a bloody one, including hundreds of state-sponsored assassinations of dissidents, thousands more violent deaths, and mass removal of black people onto “reserves.”
From 1960 all the way to 1983, the government forcibly resettled hundreds of thousands of black people, requiring many to give up their land to whites then rent it from white landlords. Farm workers were forced into slums, unable to find jobs in “white-designated” towns. There is absolutely no question that black South Africans still feel the effects of apartheid. Such a history, like America’s bloody and shameful history of slavery, cannot simply be swept under the rug.
The Marxist solution to this injustice is forcible redistribution of property (the amendment would apply to all property, not just land) from those who benefited from the oppressive system (apartheid) to those who suffered under it. The social justice imperative overrides any right one thinks he has to private property. The very concept of private property, of ownership, stands in the way of redistributive social justice.
Now, land reform on a voluntary basis and incentivized by the government might be necessary, and no reasonable person doubts that if the supposed owner of a farm actually stole it from someone else, the property should be returned to its rightful owner. But that is not what this policy of expropriation without compensation constitutes.
South Africa’s proposed land reform is not meant to return property from thieves to its owners, it is designed to seize property from people often far removed from the thieves, by generations and the purchase and sale of the land in the time since (the farmers may mostly be of the Boer ethnicity, but that does not make them accomplices to the Boers’ past injustices), and hand this property not to the people who originally owned it, but to people who share a general characteristic with the original owners or inhabitants of the land: race.
Further eroding the idea that land seizure is just, value has been added to the land through development. It is one thing to “return” a 19th century farm, or a mid-twentieth-century farm, or an undeveloped plot of land; it is another to “return” a 21st-century farm complete with hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment and infrastructure in addition to the value of the crops themselves.
Of course, theft by government nowadays is always cloaked in the language of the greater good, of justice, peace, and the welfare of the people. According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, of the Marxist-leaning party African National Congress, “The intention of the proposed amendment is to promote redress, advance economic development, increase agricultural production and food security.”
Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Nkozi Mandela, said in a statement that the purpose of the proposed amendment is to “find a lasting and just solution and we will bring an end to land poverty just as we brought a peaceful end to apartheid.”
“We’re just trying to end poverty” and “we just want equality” are go-to lines for social justice warriors because obviously, they are noble goals. But make no mistake: The policies they employ toward these supposed ends are divisive and destructive. They will achieve neither equality nor an end to poverty, as they undermine the fundamental human rights necessary for human flourishing.
A Major Cause of Zimbabwe’s Collapse
How do we know land seizure is destructive? The Zimbabwean government already tried it. Under President Mugabe’s direction, the government seized more than 800 farms, nearly a quarter of the large-scale farms, comprising 40 percent of the export earnings. Large-scale farms were the country’s largest employment sector, employing 2 million people.
The evicted farmers were mostly white, and the minority of black farmers affected were mostly critics of Mugabe, according to The Guardian’s report from June 2000. Despite the British government’s willingness to participate in “well-managed” land reform, Mugabe rejected any conditions (such as legality) and fast-tracked the settlement of blacks onto the farms.
The consequences were disastrous. Over the next decade, agricultural output dropped by $12 billion and led to famine, riots, farm killings, flight of foreign capital, price controls (which further disincentivized output), a banking crisis, and hyperinflation, ultimately leading to complete economic collapse.
When black farm owners began hiring the expertise of white former farmers and even sharing profits with them to achieve success, Mugabe said, “We can’t have another war to liberate a country we have already liberated.” Even given the miserable outcome of farm confiscation, he seemed to view voluntary arrangements with whites as oppressive.
Compare Zimbabwe’s socialist nightmare to the success of Botswana, where the policies immediately after independence from Britain in 1965 “were far more free market and libertarian than those of any other leader in sub-Saharan Africa.” According to a Mercatus Center economics paper, Botswana enjoyed a growth rate of nearly 11 percent over the next decade. The average income in Botswana jumped from $372 to $1,032.
The government of Botswana bucked the trend of sub-saharan Africa post-colonialism by keeping much of British common law in place, including protection of property rights. The ruling party’s manifesto included the following provisions:
Safeguard the liberty of the individual by the maintenance of law and order, and guarantee every individual citizen the rights of man as defined in the Constitution. … Not allow any form of discrimination, whether political, social or economic, against any minority racial group in the country … Neither shall the laws of the country recognize any preferential considerations of a political, economic, or social nature for any tribal or racial … Treat all men as equal before the law.
“There were no statues of Marx or Lenin in Botswana,” wrote Beaulier. Eighty percent of the voters supported the Botswana Democratic Party. Instead of asking what government could give them, the people asked what they must do to develop their economy.
But a mere decade later, Botswana transitioned to “big government” policies like those found in Western countries, and economic growth slowed. The government growth stemmed from “the government’s decision to make promises to a number of different groups of people desiring government services,” leading to “a slow and steady erosion of civil liberties, a loss of individual responsibility, and the loss of a government committed to the promotion of sound economic policies.”
That’s an important lesson. South Africans are being promised radical change. Like the Zimbabwean leaders, they’ve promised “justice” through land reform. Now, the ruling parties in South Africa have to make good on those promises. If Zimbabwe’s collapse is any warning, though, the violation of property rights will be disastrous.
There Are Dangers for America Here, Too
Americans, too, should take heed. Proponents of social justice at all levels of government have told black Americans they are categorical victims and routinely make promises to rectify the injustices of past and present capitalist oppression: police reform, prison reform, welfare, affordable housing, et cetera. First they seek to divide us by race and ethnicity, fostering tension and even violence. Then, they seek to redistribute wealth as the primary method of redress.
As convictions intensify over white guilt and the continued “legacy of oppression,” should we not expect to hear open calls to redistribute directly along racial lines, not by far-left writers, but also politicians? Could courts identify racial reparations as a “public purpose” for which eminent domain can be used? Wouldn’t seizing historical plantations contribute, overall, to the “public welfare,” as Ramaphosa described the purpose of the proposed amendment to South Africa’s constitution?
Could the courts decide the 14th Amendment allows racial redistribution for the purpose of promoting equality? If the Supreme Court could find the right to abortion there, surely, given proper motivation, they could find an entitlement for historically oppressed groups to receive money and property from historically dominant groups.
All it takes is a few years — decades, maybe — of heightening racial tensions, the permeation of the Marxist worldview through our education system, and a strengthened entitlement mentality before the cultural environment is ripe for a more authentic Marxism. Don’t ever say, “It can’t happen here.”