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Property Rights and Freedom

THE concept of freedom is not new; it has been an idea that previous generations have sought with passion and determination.

The first European settlers in the United States were people fleeing religious persecution in Europe, so were some of the first settlers in the Cape.

It was this motive, amongst others, that drove the Afrikaners to set out from the secure confines of the Cape to undertake a great trek into the remote hinterland of Africa where they sought freedom.

In turn, the people they oppressed as they occupied new lands, sought freedom in a struggle that took on political and even military form.

The very freedoms the Afrikaners desired from the “uitlanders”, they in turn denied the indigenous people they displaced and subjugated.

In the United States the settlers swamped the indigenous peoples and in their turn not only denied them their own rights, but nearly wiped them out.

Today the struggle for real freedom is less obvious but is still an important issue.

In my view the modern Africans struggle for freedom has more to do with property rights today than political rights. The latter struggle is won, the former is still with us and it is in this context that the current farm invasions in Zimbabwe must be seen.

The greatest threat to African progress today is the near universal denial of individual ownership rights to property that characterises traditional society. The roots lie deeply imbedded in a culture where chiefs hold the title to the land and made use of this to establish their power and authority.

Such socio economic systems were fine so long as there was ample land available and no fences.

The introduction of the modern economy and health systems led to rising populations and these soon outstripped the capacity of the land to carry the burden of traditional agricultural practices.

It is all about property rights. The colonists, when they occupied and subjugated the land, restricted the indigenous people to specific land areas and did nothing to see to it that they enjoyed property rights there.

In such situations people cannot be free. They are subject to the whims of their leaders and the people with wealth and power in their midst. They are easily persuaded to use violence for one end or another and can be forced by their dependence on others to vote this way or that.

To bring freedom to people caught up in this cycle of violence, poverty and subjugation requires access to secure property rights. In town the right and even the capacity to own a home large enough to accommodate a family.

By destroying the property rights of the commercial farmer in Zimbabwe, the government of the day took the process of reform in the wrong direction.

It has long been a goal of the MDC to bring secure property rights to all who must live on the land and to ensure that every family that chooses to move to the towns, is able to buy their own home and live with security.

Freehold property rights create freedom and secure democracy.

That is why tyrants try to destroy them whenever they have the opportunity.

Eddie Cross,

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