Covet the wealthy in SA, don't punish them: Tony Leon

28 January 2020 - 21:18 By Andisiwe Makinana
Former DA leader Tony Leon on the campaign trail in Eldorado Park in April 2019. Leon addressed the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday.
Former DA leader Tony Leon on the campaign trail in Eldorado Park in April 2019. Leon addressed the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday.
Image: Sunday Times/Sebabatso Mosamo

Former DA leader Tony Leon says the government should show more appreciation to the wealthy instead of seeking to punish them, as calls intensify for the expropriation of land without compensation.

Leon also criticised the ANC's recent proposal, seeking to give the executive the final authority on land expropriation. He described the proposal as “constitutionally nonsensical and legislatively mischievous", comparing it to the apartheid regime's laws of dispossession.

He was speaking on Tuesday at the Cape Town Press Club about his political outlook for SA.

He further criticised ANC MP Mathole Motshekga, who has a doctorate in law, for advancing viewpoints that were “constitutionally illiterate and profoundly ignorant” by suggesting that the department of rural development and land reform should become “some sort of obermeister fuhrer [supreme leader]” of land reform in the country.

“It will decide which properties are to be expropriated, it will determine the compensation and you will have to like it or lump it. And if you want to lump it, you will have to go to the court to try and argue why you should get any compensation or disagree with the quantum paid," he said.

“To make an obvious point, this is a replication of the apartheid regime's attempts, largely successful then without the constitution, but now to simply oust the jurisdiction of the court.” 

Leon said it was baffling for the ANC to make such a proposal about the department of rural development and land reform when the Constitutional Court, in a judgment last August, blamed the same department for what it called the crisis in land reform and the bitterness of the land debate.

Judge Edwin Cameron said the department had failed to manage and expedite land reform measures in accordance with the constitution.

“He went on to say, 'it is not the constitution, it is not the courts, it is not the laws of the country that are at fault; it is institutional incapacity of the department that lies at the heart of this crisis',” said Leon, quoting Cameron.

Leon also registered disappointed in President Cyril Ramaphosa, saying back in May 1996 when the new constitution was adopted, Ramaphosa spoke in support of the constitution, describing it as the country's birth certificate.

“It's not a driving licence that you can remove, as some deem. It's not to be used to punish pasty minorities or land owners; in fact it's a birth certificate of the country for every citizen.”

According to Leon, Ramaphosa further said, at a celebratory function a few days later,  that section 25 dealt with twin imperatives of redress and land reform on the one hand, and current and future guarantees on the other.

“Rest assured, the constitution will ensure that no South African will ever again be arbitrarily deprived of their property,” Ramaphosa allegedly told the crowd, according to Leon.

Turning to SA's struggling economy, Leon referenced the findings of economist Michael Spence's 2008 study of growth and development, which said economic growth was a fruit of two forces: the ability of people to recognise opportunities, and the creation by the government of the legal, fiscal and regulatory framework on which it is worthwhile to exploit those opportunities.

"The key it included is simply to put sensible policies in place and then let the intelligence, industrious and ingenuity of the people do the rest," said Leon.

However, he said the problem in South Africa is that the richest 10% of citizens pay 89.4% of all income taxes, while almost 80% of registered taxpayers pay less than 5% - statistics he described as extraordinary and frightening.

"So you might be disparaged, your property might be dispossessed, you might be put in a corner for being a minority or having wealth, but that 10% actually needs to be coveted and kept close by any government wishing to create economic growth, job opportunities and spread the wealth as the majority of people in whose name that government governs.

"That's not because I have some predisposition prejudice; it is a simple, straightforward and unarguable matter of economic fact."

The former opposition leader blamed the failure to recognise this on “a huge amount of background noise” being informed by identity politics.

"You are white … and you are subjected to what passes as political discourse in this country."