Looking back over the last four years, from the moment in December 2017 when the ANC adopted a motion to change the Constitution to corrupt property rights to the moment in December 2021 when that motion was officially defeated, one might wonder how it all happened. Turns out the story started long before that, as the IRR’s policy experts knew all too well, and the battle is far from over.

The following text was submitted last year to several mainstream publications. It was rejected, as far as can be ascertained, on the basis that it was too good an advertisement for the smart and hard work of the IRR. Not to worry, as the following piece will demonstrate, the IRR’s tenacity strikes through with potent frequency, and this is a rare tribute to the team, its supporters, and the irresistible arguments that we rely on to hold the line.

The attempt to change the Bill of Rights to allow Expropriation Without Compensation (EWC) failed in the National Assembly and has therefore “lapsed”. If the ANC and EFF want to try Amend the Constitution they would have to start anew.

“Why did the EFF vote against the Amendment? They’ve been calling for it all this time. Was it brown envelopes at the last minute?” a friend asked. To be more specific he said, “Did the IRR bribe the EFF to save the country or something like that?”

The idea is comical, if for no other reason than that the EFF has more “Gucci” money than the IRR could ever muster. But the IRR does receive small monthly contributions from over 10 000 South Africans and it used those resources scrupulously to block EWC. If not by bribes, then how?

Communication

We communicate common sense. Then we wake up the next day and do it again. We have been doing this for years. In fact, we have been doing this since before EWC even became a talking point within the ANC.

According to Frans Cronje, former CEO of the IRR, “top analysis is knowing what your subject will do before they know what they will do. On EWC we got that right”.

That is because in 2013, when the ConCourt ruled that mineral rights could be taken into state “custodianship”, the IRR’s head of policy research, Dr Anthea Jeffery, anticipated, correctly, that the ANC would seize on the idea of trying to go for “custodianship” on a grander scale involving land to meet the objectives of the “National Democratic Revolution”. Those objectives have been re-ratified at ANC conferences for decades, which most people overlook.

First the commentariat laughed at our warnings, then they fought us, then we won. The battle of ideas took place on three fronts.

The battle’s first tier has been the local media, in which the IRR’s mission was to knock all pro-EWC arguments flat. The mission statement, as I received it on joining the IRR in 2018, was clear. “Make sure that by the time it comes to a vote there will be almost nothing left in the media that is pro-EWC”.

“Yessir,” I said, “that is exactly why I joined.”

The IRR was armed with nothing but facts, the inferential calculus (logic), and the tenacity to keep pushing even when the battle seemed lost.

From 1 January 2018 to date, the IRR has published 1 342 opinion pieces and newspaper letters  opposing EWC. Over the same period the IRR has been cited in print or engaged media interviews opposing EWC 1 704 times.

Add social media and the upshot is that the IRR has made in the region of 6 public interventions per day, every day, from the time the ANC resolved to push ahead with the constitutional amendment until the time that amendment was defeated.

This was no small feat, and special mention must go to Terence Corrigan, without doubt the foremost source of anti-EWC output in the country, a polite and fastidious Classical Liberal I am proud to call my colleague.

Boardrooms

The second domain of intellectual battle was, to wit, South Africa’s boardrooms. Corporations are by their nature inclined to appease the government, since government wields the stick of punitive regulations and the carrots of subsidy and tender.

The battle here was tough. In a sense I may claim to have made a small contribution to the departure of Dan Kriek, former head of Agri SA, the largest agricultural association, and the organisation’s realigning itself to adopt a firmly anti-EWC stance. The weapon I wielded? Simply reporting Kriek’s own words.

My colleague Hermann Pretorius industriously lobbied all traditional major banks and new financial highflyers through relentless public engagements and pressure. This alerted clients against the potential for boardroom fat-cats to keep themselves in the cream while feeding their customers rancid curds.

The third domain of battle was global. The IRR sent envoys to London, Berlin, Brussels, Beijing, Tel Aviv, and Washington DC to make the case against EWC. The South African government complained bitterly that wherever it went to proclaim its reform agenda it faced tough questions on EWC on the grounds we laid in our global lobbying.

To use economic thinking as one measure of the effect of the IRR’s three-tier lobby, consider the original proposal that EWC would materially improve most people’s lives. Under scrutiny that ridiculous idea fell by the wayside to the point where we eventually struggled to find anyone foolish enough to even try arguing for it anymore. Rebuttal did its work.

The upshot was Julius Malema’s admission that ‘the price to pay’ for EWC is ‘poverty’, but that in his view more poverty is worth EWC on ‘principle’. But the ANC was committed to pretending that EWC would be ‘just’ and materially helpful, without an argument to back the latter fantasy up.

Technical disagreement

The technical disagreement between the EFF and the ANC on how much land should be nationalised – or taken into state ‘custodianship’ – on which the Amendment nominally collapsed is just the most superficial version of this deeper divergence in political tactics. At the most basic level one party had to pretend that EWC would be economically good, a ruse that was debunked by many, and by none more than the IRR, while the other was prepared to admit that EWC would come at a heavy ‘price’, which IRR polls show to be at odds with the vast majority of South Africans’ preference.

In short, both were stuck playing poker with their cards face-up, revealing that EWC is a losing proposition both economically and politically (for a seriously big party), because we exposed the truth.

That is not to say that EWC is over. The Expropriation Bill is still coming, aiming at EWC through the back door. The IRR will continue to fight that ruse too. As the constitutional battle shows, pressure builds reform, appeasement delays it. The winner of any great policy contest is the side that creates sufficient pressure to make it impossible for the adversary to persist in their objective, as manifested in the amendment vote of 7 December 2021.

In case you have any doubts at how far the public tone has been shifted in the last four years, look back at the first week of December last year. How many top pundits called for a pro-EWC vote in the build-up? By the time the vote came there was ‘no reason left to hope for anything short of a defeat against EWC’. I salute Frans Cronje and the team he led to help make that fact common knowledge.

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Gabriel Crouse is a writer and analyst at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). His journalism is based on fieldwork and quantitative analysis, with a focus on land reform. Gabriel holds a degree in Philosophy from Princeton University.