A Christian Response to the EFF’s Policy on Land Expropriation Without Compensation

EFF-RED-large-squareThe EFF has released a document answering common questions regarding land expropriation without compensation. What are Christians to make of their policies and ideas? This article is a Biblical reflection on their proposal. I am not writing to offer my own solution to the land issue, but rather to compare the EFF’s policy on the issue of ‘the land’ and the teachings of Scripture.

I want to start by affirming the EFF’s stated heart which is the “redress of colonial and apartheid injustice.[i]” God’s law is written on mankind’s heart, and this goal of the EFF certainly reflects God’s attitude toward the injustices of Apartheid and Colonialism.

Before looking at the EFF’s policy we need to look at what the Bible say about property ownership? The great moral law laid down in the Ten Commandments starts us off: “You shall not steal…” (Exodus 20:15) and Deuteronomy 5:21 says, “‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field…”(some translations have the word ‘land’ instead of ‘field’).

These two commandments have an assumption, namely that there is stuff that belongs to one person and not to another person (it is not communally owned). This private ownership by individuals extends to houses and fields.

The Scriptures while forbidding theft, do explain how land may lawfully be acquired. It may be passed down through an inheritance (Proverbs 19:14 and Deuteronomy 21:16). Or it can be acquired through hard work and wisdom (Proverbs 10:4; 13:4;14:23; 3:16; 14:15). This is based on people being allowed to benefit from the work that they do; by drawing a salary, saving their money, and purchasing things like land (1 Corinthians 9:9-11)

Private property and the protection thereof is made emphatic in the Scripture when it forbids surreptitiously acquiring someone’s property or enlarging your own (Deuteronomy 27:17).

We also have an example in Scripture of the ‘State’ seeking a private individual’s property. In 1 Kings 21 Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard but Naboth doesn’t want to sell it to the king. In the end Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, has Naboth killed and his land stolen, with the coveted land ending up in the hands of Ahab. Ahab and Jezebel are both judged by God for this wicked act.

Undergirding that story and the preceding commands and instructions of Scripture is the assumption that God is the true Owner of everything. The Scripture describes God as, “God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19); and the owner of all the earth (Exodus 19:5; Psalm 50:12). God owns the land and has placed man on the land as stewards. As we have seen this doesn’t mean individuals and even corporations cannot own land. Instead our ownership of private property should be seen as a gift from God, as well as a duty to use it for His glory. Acquiring property through theft (Exodus 20:15), government orders (1 Kings 21) or fudging boundaries (Deuteronomy 27:17) is sinful.

The idea of private ownership of land for individuals and families has been set as a Biblical precedent. Therefore, we can see the antithesis of God’s law in any ideology that would seek to take private ownership away from people and give the land to the State. With the State as the owner of land they usurp the place of God, and attempt to control individuals, families, the church, schools and any other institution. The State and its worldview becomes the determiner of the best interest of the people.

We would do well then to think through the interplay between the State as the owners of the land and the influence it can then exert consistently with its worldview. What the State thinks about social issues such as abortion, sexuality, and pluralism will be inescapable. Who the State chooses to ‘bless’ in its ‘sovereignty’ may on the surface be one issue (i.e. race, the disenfranchised, the poor, etc), however it is by no means limited to those parameters.

A benefit of private property after the fall of mankind can be seen in what social 980xscientists call ‘the Tragedy of the Commons’. The Tragedy of the Commons’ is a ubiquitous problem where things like property are held in common. Imagine a situation where ten individuals all have access to the same piece of land, each have a motivation to maximize their profit from the land, but none have a motivation to delay exhausting the land, since they know that the nine others would want to maximise their profit in the short term, even if they don’t. The result is that people will maximise their output from land but minimize their input into the land; this results in land exhaustion. However, if an individual owns the land, they have a motivation to prolong the profitability of that piece of land for themselves[ii]. If you want to see this lived out, look at the walls of public bathrooms and then look at the walls of private bathrooms. As Christians we believe in the depravity of man, and so should not be taken by surprise that people put themselves first, whilst being suspicious of the actions and intentions of others.

With this as a Biblical reflection let’s look at the statements made by the EFF. In their position paper on the topic this is what they have to say:

Expropriation is a legal mechanism through which the State takes over property owned by other entities, be they private individuals, companies, trusts or community-based organisations[iii].

This land must then be placed under the custodianship of the State, which will administer and redistribute it equitably to all South Africans for residential and productive use[iv].

The underlying principle is that land is a common natural endowment that everyone must be able to reside or produce on, and satisfy their spiritual requirements from. What is to remain in private possession would be the manifestation of an individual’s labour, such as crops, trees and buildings – but not the land[v].

Remarkably, the only conditions under which a common ownership would work is identified by the EFF, they say, “It will … require a State that is decisive and intolerant of corruption[vi]. Decisive people we can find, but corruption is part of being a human, it’s part of having a fallen, God-resisting nature. Private ownership distributes the effect of that corruption so that it can be checked and balanced. In a private property system, individuals must consider their perpetual good and thus conserve land and resources. There is a selfish motivation to sustain and protect, since it belongs to them. People are still corrupt, but that corruption is spread broadly over many people. In this way private ownership of property restrains wickedness.

However, if you give the ownership/custodianship of the land to a few, then the checks on their depravity are gone. The power that comes with being the owners and arbiters of land use is the very power that will corrupt, as the proverbial saying goes, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

The EFF does say that the first stage of State Ownership will lead to “more progressive forms of collective ownership[vii]”, however this falls within the same issues already discussed in this article.

As Christians we must affirm restitution for wrongs as a Biblical principle. We must also acknowledge that the issue of restitution cannot be viewed simplistically but in this fallen, broken world there will be no Utopia. That is not to say we must not strive to do right but understanding that ‘right’ must be thought through in a vigorous and deep way. Whatever the answer to South Africa’s land issue will be, it should not be the denial of private property and the ownership of property by the State. This is not what will empower people, but rather what will empower the State.

We need to start by looking at things in Biblical paradigms, because apart from that we know nothing will really work. If we look at this issue from the perspective of protecting people’s comforts, we will ignore what Scripture says about restitution, instead we will only love our own flesh (Ephesians 5:29). Only the gospel opens people’s hearts to see their brother without these world’s goods and open their heart to them (1 John 3:17). It is also the gospel that enables us to see that there is a way to redress the wrongs of the past that seems right to man, but the end thereof is death (Proverbs 14:12).

My final warning would be this, if as a white South African, your response to this issue of redressing past injustice is in no way nuanced and different from your non-believing white friends, then there is a good chance that you need to relook at the foundations underpinning your outlook. The same must be said for black South Africans –  if your response is the same as any political ideology that has historically opposed Christianity in every instance of its manifestation in a country (i.e. Communism), it would be very wise to very carefully examine the foundations of the solutions they propose and sift them through the Scriptures.


[i] Frequently Asked Questions on Land Expropriation without Compensation. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/35f96d_77b45d3d5ad5477a8051153efda547d4.pdf (accessed 2018-06-28) Page 4

[ii] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/tragedy-of-the-commons.asp (accessed 2018-06-28)

[iii] Frequently Asked Questions on Land Expropriation without Compensation. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/35f96d_77b45d3d5ad5477a8051153efda547d4.pdf (accessed 2018-06-28) Page 14

[iv] IBID Page 16

[v] IBID

[vi] IBID Page 17

[vii] IBID

  12 comments for “A Christian Response to the EFF’s Policy on Land Expropriation Without Compensation

  1. Dawn Weatherill
    July 2, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Whilst restitution to redress past injustice is imperative, it is most definitely an act of theft to deprive someone of property bought and paid for in a legally constituted system. An agreed mechanism was written into the Constitution and must be adhered to. . The goal posts cannot be arbitrarily changed.

  2. David
    July 2, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    Unfortunately, much of the land and property was “legally” acquired through a Apartheid and various laws over a span of more than 300 years. Much of that land and property, was and is really what we now call ‘good land’ is being passed on from generation to generation by those who “legally” bought it during those periods.

    Bottom line is, as Christians we are not governed by “the Law”, but Christ’s law governs our hearts… And passages like Mark 10:29-31, Luke 19:1-10 and Hebrews 10:32-35 are helpful ways to think practically though how the gospel shapes our thoughts on land, property and theft of land.

  3. July 4, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    During the apartheid years most white churches were silent about the injustices around them (and even benefitted), yet now they want to rear their heads by calling the impending redress ‘unChristian’ because the balance of power will shift tremendously.

    Proverbs 21:13 ‘If a man shuts his ear to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.’
    The unwritten law between white people is to never sell or give land to blacks so that the latter remain desperately poor.

    I have not yet seen a black person who says land expropriation is bad. Nor have I seen a white person who says it’s good. In my view, white people have always tried to use the Word of God to pacify blacks. Black people don’t understand why whites hate them with such virulence – yet whites are the perpetrators.

    God listens the cause of the oppressed and detests those who treat other human beings as sub-human.

    • tyrellh
      July 4, 2018 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I am not sure you read the article I wrote. Please read it again. I did not say expropriation is unbiblical, I said expropriation to the State appears to be unbiblical.

      • July 12, 2018 at 4:42 pm

        I read the beginning, middle and end – so I didn’t read the whole article. I will read it in its entirety and give an unbiased, hopefully Spirit-led, response. Thank you.

      • tyrellh
        July 12, 2018 at 4:46 pm

        Thanks friend

  4. Nono
    July 21, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    I am afraid if you want to go biblical about the land issue Tyrrell you will either have to: (1) Give the land that is not used (Luke 6v38) or (2) Give back the land as You know it was not ‘legally’ acquired by your forefathers.
    I read the entire article. If Christians are not meant to go by the ‘law’ or share the same views as non-believers, then this article should be steering whites to giving back land fairly and not hoarding hectares upon hectares of land while we live in shacks.
    What we might just have to come to accept as a people (both black and white) is that we are living in a Joel 2v25-27 time. It’s time for restoration!
    Some will lose, some will gain back. The time has come!

    • tyrellh
      July 21, 2018 at 7:53 pm

      I am not sure you understood the article at all. Please reread it. Or perhaps I have been terribly unclear, but I did have a few proof readers so I am sure they would have helped me if I was.

  5. Franco
    July 31, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Although I think you put a lot of thought into your article I do sense that you only chose certain texts in the Bible. If we take the State out of it for a moment and accept that a lot of the land now owned by whites were either taken by the Apartheid government and sold to whites (whites also had to loose some of their land to blacks, but it were a few drops in the ocean of injustice) and before the Apartheid Government black people were disposessed from their land and belongings in so many ways by the British and the Dutch colonizers. The net-result was that the best (and most) agricultural land is still owned by whites – land which over a period of 400 years were taken from blacks or bought for next to nothing fro people who didn’t understand the economics of the whites. Restitution would mean to give it back. The jubilee laws of the Bible actually said that land that was bought from poor people should be given back to them every 50 years in order for the scales to balance out again – a type of economic reboot. I like the principle because it would mean that we can really start again. Unfortunately the original ownership is now lost and it seems that just giving land indiscriminately to who wants to have some didn’t work anywhere in Africa so far. And that makes this very difficult. Let us all agree on that. The bottom line, Tyrell, is that if you were black and felt that it is unfair that so little agricultural land is in the hands of black farmers, you would have chosen your Biblical texts different.
    Another “Christian response”

    • tyrellh
      August 1, 2018 at 6:08 am

      Hi Franco. Thanks for your thoughts. I must take issue with your first comment as you get into your reflection, “If we take the State out of it for a moment…” that is the entire thesis of my post. My post is not against expropriation, my post is not a denial of the fact that land was stolen by whites from blacks and that blacks were displaced. Nor am I denying that colonialism had its effects. This is all why i start the article by affirming the EFF’s stated heart in redressing the wrongs of the past. If however, you remove the State from my article, you remove the very issue I am addressing, and thus your response is not to my article.

      Secondly, the Jubilee law has more problems than not recognizing who the original owners were. Applying this law would be to ignore the continuity and discontinuity of Old Testament Law, since this specific law is 1) tied uniquely to the land of Israel which represents God’s presence, and 2) is specifically said to have reached its fulfillment in Christ in Luke 4:16–21.
      If I may, I also think you make to fallacious argument toward the end of your response: 1) You seem to pit ‘giving the land indiscriminately to who wants to have some” against giving it to the states however those are not the only two options, there is a wealth of other solutions in between. Plus giving the land to the state has not worked well in any cases where it has occurred, it has always been economic stagnation and tyranny. It may be difficult, but its far from impossible to work toward a God honoring solution.

      And regarding the “bottomline”, you appeal to emotion as the controlling factor in the choice of Biblical texts? It is the very texts I quote that are required in order to repudiate the activity of the Apartheid government. If you do not use those texts then you cannot argue that whites taking ,and from blacks was wrong and requires redressing. My race and colour if they are so controlling would are really not relevant, unless everyone’s race and emotion makes them differ from me? Which Biblical texts would I look at when considering ‘State vs private ownership’ if I were black and felt differently then I do now?

      I appreciate your response and engagement brother, but I don’t know if you can call it another Christian response to the EFF Policy on Land expropriation, since you did not engage with the Scriptures apart from a brief mention of the Jubilee Law. Help me understand, if I have misunderstood you brother?

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