“Expropriation Without Compensation” and “Custodianship”—Catchphrases That Threaten South Africa

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“Expropriation Without Compensation” and “Custodianship”—Catchphrases That Threaten South Africa: A Call to Reject the Destruction of Property Rights That Paves the Road to Socialism
“Expropriation Without Compensation” and “Custodianship”—Catchphrases That Threaten South Africa: A Call to Reject the Destruction of Property Rights That Paves the Road to Socialism

A Call to Reject the Destruction of Property Rights That Paves the Road to Socialism

Homes, farms and factories are all threatened by proposed legislation that will strip South Africans of their property rights. The threat takes the form of a Constitutional amendment that would facilitate the State’s taking “custodianship” of the entire landholding of the country, thereby eliminating private ownership. Those who have gained property over the last decades may soon lose it all. A travesty of justice and the specter of an economic disaster are in the making.

To expose this great threat, the Peace in the Land Committee offers this calm and clear analysis of the present situation. It is an appeal to the nation to reject this path to destruction and embrace the God-given right to property—an absolute prerequisite for order and peace.

Will Institutionalized Theft Become the Law of the Land?

“Expropriation without compensation” (EWC) has become an exhausting catchphrase and the battering ram to eliminate private property. For years now, this slogan has dominated the political landscape.

Being sold initially as a “land reform” issue, which would necessitate a Constitutional amendment, the issue has morphed from bad to catastrophic, with ever more radical proposals tabled. At the core is the very notion and legitimacy of private property.

With the question now approaching finality, two bills are taking shape that will soon be debated in Parliament. One is dedicated to a Constitutional change to the Property Section. The other will delineate under what circumstances expropriation, particularly nil compensation, may be affected in line with the Amendment.

A Call to Reject the Destruction of Property Rights That Paves the Road to Socialism
The Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee (comprising all political parties) is responsible for drawing up an “expropriation-without-compensation” (EWC) constitutional amendment bill.
Photo Credit:  © Guillaume – stock.adobe.com

The current efforts completely ignore many organic, harmonious and productive solutions to the “land question.” They favor instead confiscatory socialist solutions. As these deliberations—with a decidedly Leftist bent—draw to a close, their implications threaten the principle of private ownership, the future of agriculture, and the prospects for investment, land tenure, and food security. Indeed, for those who weep for the nation, the passing of these “land-reform” Bills will augur a dark night of catastrophic consequences for all South Africans.

A Brief Recap on the Origins of the Debate

The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) first triggered this discussion. Its Parliamentary Resolution on EWC in early 2018 enjoyed the backing of the majority party and placed this contentious issue at the forefront of the country’s political agenda. Barely a year before, the governing party had overwhelmingly rejected the very same motion. However, it took up the cause of this new resolution, emanating from a declared Marxist-Leninist Party. This origin indicates the resolution’s nature and ultimate direction!

Sikonathi Mantshantsha writing for Business LIVE Premium (March, 8, 2018), did not mince his words in outlining the real goals behind this political charade. He said that “The EFF is not interested in restoring land to the indigenous people of SA. Its only goal is total power. For that power it is prepared not only to destroy communities and cities, but anything that stands in its way. In less-than-subtle hints, Malema has long told us what he thinks of sections of society that, in his mind, can be an obstacle to his total consolidation of power. Rwanda has been through this.” (emphasis ours)

What the Popes Have to Say About Socialism

The EFF Party Constitution makes no effort to hide its ideological colors. Socialism is its guiding theory, and the basic programme binds itself to “the complete overthrow of the neo-liberal anti-black state as well as the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes; the establishment of the dictatorship of the people in place of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the triumph of socialism over capitalism. The ultimate aim of the EFF is the realisation of socialism through people’s power.”1 (emphasis ours)

Alas, the old Soviet Union could happily identify with such a self-definition…

Who are these “exploiting” classes, if not those who, through private ownership and free enterprise, provide jobs, opportunities and therefore, economic betterment and advance?

The EFF ignores the tragic history of the twentieth century and the catastrophic upheavals, destruction, utter godlessness and oppression, characterizing all Communist nations. It commits itself to the same tired, tested and failed ideology. In the quest for a utopian “dictatorship of the Proletariat,” only about a hundred million souls perished last century due to the brutal imposition of this ideology on many nations! The evidence is there for all with eyes to see. Very few people seek entry into Cuba, Venezuela, or indeed Zimbabwe—all revolutionary “paradises”—but millions have fled amidst collapse, misery and starvation.

Revisiting the Constitution’s Property Clause

Section 25 of the Constitution lays out the basic property rights of all South Africans: “No one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application, and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property.” As in most countries, provision is made for “expropriation” for a public purpose or in the public interest. Compensation is also required—subject to agreement by the affected parties or decision of a Court.

A Necessary Repetition—Changing the Constitution Is Unwarranted!

To enact a just and equitable solution to the land question, the Constitution need not be changed. There are no Constitutional obstacles! The Constitution actually facilitates non-socialist and anti-confiscatory land reform. Section 25(5) is unambiguous: “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.”

As The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) observed at the start of this debate, there is clearly more at stake. “…. Because the ‘property clause’ is so often discussed in relation to land reform and the agricultural sector, it is often mistakenly assumed that a move on property rights will be limited to farming and agricultural landholdings. It is important to understand the reality of Section 25. It refers not to land alone, but to all property. [emphasis ours] It acknowledges that redistributive measures will feature strongly in state policy and allows for this, for both a ‘public purpose’ and ‘in the public interest.’”

The public interest refers essentially to broadly agreed-on policy goals, including—but not limited to—land reform and providing access to the country’s natural resources. It does prohibit arbitrary dispossession and recognizes the right of owners to be compensated for their loss. In addressing expropriation, Section 25 states unambiguously that expropriation in the public interest may be carried out in respect of property other than land.

An amendment facilitating EWC would be full of minefields and pitfalls. The economic and social consequences would create a crisis of confidence in the security of land tenure, instability in the countryside, lack of investment in infrastructure, unemployment, despondency, etc. It would be a disaster since it facilitates everything an emerging economy with profound structural problems does not need!

The Abject Failure of Land Reform So Far

No right-thinking person in the country can have any objection to an organic land reform programme executed in a harmonious way and with respect for the sacred and inviolable nature of private property. South Africa’s history leaves much to be desired in the arena of land ownership, but the exploitation of historical grievances to promote socialism is inexcusable.

Musi Maimane, former DA leader, succinctly summed up the EFF Resolution thus: “This decision has nothing to do with achieving justice for poor, black South Africans and everything to do with the African National Congress’ (ANC) internal politics and EFF populism, all at the expense of the poor. … The ANC’s about-turn on expropriation without compensation is not about creating a property-owning and prosperous generation of formerly dispossessed black South Africans. It is about entrenching power in the ANC.”

Given the ruling Party’s record on so many fronts, this conclusion is difficult to escape. The government’s policy in the main has sought an increasingly larger role for the State in supposedly pursuing the “transformation” agenda. In pursuit of this agenda, a cursory examination of the facts around many of the “land reform” projects will reveal massive failure. Such failure cannot be simply attributed to Constitutional obstacles that the implementation of EWC will magically wipe away!

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As glimpsed already in some parts of the South African hinterland, the impulsive attempts to “redress” imbalances have seen the “transfer of acquired land” implemented in a haphazard   unsystematic and almost reckless manner with little follow-up support and assistance. This has not only rendered formerly flourishing farms useless but also exacerbated poverty, with the natural by-product being a greater dependency on the state for survival! This failure begs the question as to why more of the same processes should be facilitated when so many existing initiatives are languishing.

Worthy of note is that with the closure and finalization of the initial phase of the land claims process, the vast majority of land claimants settled for cash disbursements in restitution. This revealed little desire for “land.” The clock cannot be turned back! The country is heavily urbanized with little appetite or capacity to revert to an “agrarian economy.” Given the galling state of the national economy, the immediate concern of most people is to find a decent job! Indeed, any reforms playing into the “radical economic transformation” mindset, and failing to defend the principle of private ownership, will result in further regression!

In truth, are there not perhaps other agendas at play here, other considerations? Witness for example, what Liou Chao Tchi, a former Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party, had to say on the critical land question, “Land Reform is a systematic and fierce struggle against feudalism… Its goal is not to give land to poor peasants or relieve their misery: that is an ideal of philanthropists, not Marxists” (cf. Informe, June 14, 1950).

The Current State of Affairs

The February 2018 Parliamentary Resolution, which sent shock waves through the country, set in motion a process to amend the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. A Legislative process to change the Constitution and give meat to this change was then begun. Thus, the Draft Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill and the Expropriation Bill are now in process amidst intensive consultations and Committee deliberations.

“Expropriation Without Compensation” and “Custodianship”—Catchphrases That Threaten South Africa: A Call to Reject the Destruction of Property Rights That Paves the Road to Socialism
Homes, farms and factories are all threatened by proposed legislation that will strip South Africans of their property rights. The threat takes the form of a Constitutional amendment that would facilitate the State’s taking “custodianship” of the entire landholding of the country, thereby eliminating private ownership.
Photo Credit: © Sean Nel – stock.adobe.com

The Vital Necessity of Private Property

The right to private ownership is sacrosanct. It is a pillar of a free society. The family institution, the very bedrock of a civilized society, flourishes and finds its freedom and guaranteed existence in the right to ownership. Private property rights are enshrined in two of God’s Commandments—thou shall not steal, and thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods. The corollaries of private property, which are private enterprise and free initiative, constitute the best and most efficacious means to create and spread wealth.

Socialists and communists hate private property because they seek an egalitarian world—a “classless” society—in which all property is “collective” and theoretically at the service of everyone. The overthrow of private property is necessary to destroy all hierarchies, including the traditional family model.

Marx once said that the theory of Communism could be encapsulated in one simple utterance: Abolish all private property. To this end, Communism’s fanatical opposition to “capitalism” is aimed at a free economy and property rights. In their frenetic desire for equality, they only succeed in establishing an equality of poverty and misery!

The Moral Testimony of the Church

These wretched doctrines, so violently espoused by socialists, are so different from the serene and logical positions of the Church, so ably and beautifully articulated over the last 150 years in her Magisterial teaching. Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903), for example, wrote countless treatises and exhortations outlining the general principles for an ordered society. His brilliant pen, ever at the service of Christian civilization, adroitly defended the principle of private property and the rights of the working classes. He gave no quarter to the false alternatives put forward by socialist currents. His signature Encyclical Rerum Novarum demolished the socialist “solution”:

“To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community. (emphasis ours)

“It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. If one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases. Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and, for greater security, invests his savings in land, the land, in such case, is only his wages under another form; and, consequently, a working man’s little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his full disposal as are the wages he receives for his labor. But it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels. Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life. (emphasis ours)

Eternal and Natural Law: The Foundation of Morals and Law

Class struggle, collectivism, state control and general disharmony are all classic hallmarks of the communist narrative. Indeed, the Church has solemnly condemned Communism as gravely contrary to Natural Law and, above all, to Divine Law. From Blessed Pius IX onward, Popes have condemned Communism and prohibited the Faithful from supporting it. Do not allow yourselves to be deceived! Pius XI admonishes. “Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever. Those who permit themselves to be deceived into lending their aid towards the triumph of Communism in their own country, will be the first to fall victims of their error.” (Encyclical Divini Redemptoris). (emphasis ours)

The Communist Threat

Communism has been rightly condemned as a “Red sect” and a satanic scourge. Millions have died in the attempt to create a “classless, egalitarian society.” The same Encyclical above further teaches: “How is it possible that such a system, long since rejected scientifically and now proved erroneous by experience, how is it, We ask, that such a system could spread so rapidly in all parts of the world? The explanation lies in the fact that too few have been able to grasp the nature of Communism. The majority instead succumb to its deception, skillfully concealed by the most extravagant promises. By pretending to desire only the betterment of the condition of the working classes, by urging the removal of the very real abuses chargeable to the liberalistic economic order, and by demanding a more equitable distribution of this world’s goods (objectives entirely and undoubtedly legitimate), the Communist takes advantage of the present world-wide economic crisis to draw into the sphere of his influence even those sections of the populace which on principle reject all forms of materialism and terrorism. And as every error contains its element of truth, the partial truths to which We have referred are astutely presented according to the needs of time and place, to conceal, when convenient, the repulsive crudity and inhumanity of Communistic principles and tactics.… The preachers of Communism are also proficient in exploiting racial antagonisms and political divisions and oppositions. They take advantage of the lack of orientation characteristic of modern agnostic science in order to burrow into the universities, where they bolster up the principles of their doctrine with pseudo-scientific arguments.” (emphasis ours)

The Church and the Communist State: The Impossible Coexistence

In light of this crystal clear Church teaching, this is clearly a moral crisis. Where is the voice of Church authorities today? Where is that cry of alarm, the outrage, at the aborning prospect of every property holder, at the stroke of a pen, becoming tenants of the State? The silence from the religious sector is enigmatic and inconceivable…

Warning Bells Ringing in the “Expropriation” Saga

Private property is anathema to communist philosophy. Emboldened by its gains, the EFF is pushing the goalposts. It counts on minimal resistance from the “right” due to the inertia, disunity, and lack of astuteness within its ranks. Since the foundation of this Party, which has served as a tool to force the Government ever more leftward, warning bells have been ringing!

Unfortunately, many people still rely on the “The Fall of the Berlin Wall” narrative to deny the existence and threat of a Communist revolution today. Memories are short, and it is a long time ago that the Virgin Mary appeared at Fatima in Portugal in 1917 to warn mankind of the scourge of Communism. Her God-given solutions for world peace were simple. The end of the communist menace would come only with a moral conversion and a return to Almighty God…

A Call to Reject the Destruction of Property Rights That Paves the Road to Socialism
When a man engages in remunerative labor, he is entitled to his just wages and to dispose of such remuneration as he pleases. Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and, for greater security, invests his savings in land, the land, in such case, is only his wages under another form.
Photo Credit:  © Madele – stock.adobe.com

“Custodianship”—Completing the Ideological Journey Away From Private Ownership?

It seems there may be more to this debate than meets the eye. Are there other reasons why EWC is so doggedly pursued? Could South Africa be the experimental lab for a great ideological shift in the concept and understanding of private property?

What happens in South Africa could be a sounding board for Africa and even further abroad. This attack on private property could presage a rebirth of Marxist efforts punting the same old concepts and policies in fresh wrapping, as seen for example, in current political debate and unrest in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Enter the concept of “custodianship”—a favorite in the lexicon of the EFF and all those committed to “Radical Economic Transformation” (RET). The new Marxists are using the term to usher in a new “transformed South Africa” in the line of China, Venezuela, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.

The idea of “custodianship” conjures up a protective and benevolent notion of the “caring” State that gives to each “according to his need.” However, should custodianship be adopted as a guiding Constitutional requirement, it will abolish the principle of private property and presage the transfer of the entire landholding of South Africa into the hands of the State.

This transfer would place citizens at the mercy of the State. In the hands of a revolutionary and hostile government, what might one expect? With the stroke of a pen, a central tenet of a communist regime would be installed without any political uproar and resistance that could arise from any proposed policy of “nationalization”!

The EFF Plays its Hand

The Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee (comprising all political parties) is responsible for drawing up an “expropriation-without-compensation” (EWC) constitutional amendment bill. Recent meetings of the committee—ostensibly to debate the established wording of the bill on a clause-by-clause basis—have witnessed even more hard-line policy proposals.

Dr. Anthea Jeffery succinctly summed up the conundrum in an article aptly titled “The EFF hijacks the Ad Hoc Committee with tacit ANC Agreement.” She points out a move to jettison the existing script and posit a new one:

“Instead, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) presented the committee with a very different measure which would:

  • allow EWC not only for land but also for ‘property’ in general, provided this is done ‘in the public interest’ or for ‘public purposes’;
  • make the state the custodian of all land (in addition to all water and mineral resources), also without compensation being paid; and
  • remove all provisions in Section 25 (the property clause) dealing with ‘just and equitable’ compensation on expropriation, including the courts’ capacity to decide what the amount of compensation should be.”2

These changes had been mooted in a previous committee meeting, as Biznews showed in an article on May 13, 2021 titled: Three proposed amendments to EWC ‘damaging enough to make SA uninvestable.’” In it, Dr. Anthea Jeffery shows the sympathy manifested by the ANC Committee Chair (Dr. Mathole Motshega) for these new proposals tabled by the EFF. They would also significantly diminish the oversight role of the Courts in the context of expropriation and compensation: “According to Dr Motshekga, the Committee is ‘not confined to considering what was published in the initial draft’ of the Bill, as gazetted in December 2019.”3

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Thus, what was previously mooted has now been formally proposed by the EFF for the final draft of the envisaged Amendment to the Constitution—without further public consultation deemed necessary. At the same time, the concerns of fellow committee members of opposition parties are brushed aside!

Regrettably, legal precedent exists for considering property under “custodianship,” as opposed to “ownership.” The injustice of being expropriated without fair compensation has been upheld by the highest Court in the land. This precedent does not augur well for legitimate owners who may be victims of this legal “loophole” to confiscate property without the need to pay compensation…

The unimaginably ludicrous situation is clearly spelled out in a Daily Maverick article titled: Expropriation Bill not just about land, but all property, divergent groups warn MPs.” The article reads: “Wednesday’s Expropriation Bill public hearings red-flagged the definitions of property, public interest and public purpose. These inadequate definitions emerged as worrying not only because of prescribed assets, but also because of mortgages, which must continue to be paid even on an expropriated property….” “Right now, if a bondholder’s property is expropriated, (s)he must continue to pay mortgage installments because the bond holder, despite expropriation, remains liable for the whole debt.”4 (emphasis ours)

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Due to public concerns elicited by the debates and fear of the general drift in events, a notable cooling in the enthusiasm for the language of “custodianship” played out in a bout of backpedaling. However, such reactions could be mere expediency and/or the need to pacify centrist public opinion, eager to clutch at any seeming retreat from “extremist” language and proposals…

Anthea Jeffery, in the timely article “Has the ANC leopard changed its NDR spots,” isolates some of the motivations offered in the Committee deliberations for this “cooling:”

“Custodianship would have ‘a deleterious effect on all existing rights in land’, said the ANC’s Vuzumusi Xaba, for it would mean the ‘cancellation’ of all such rights. How would the ANC explain this, he queried, ‘to the residents of KwaMashu, Ntuzuma, Alexandra, Soweto, and Nyanga, who had recently been given full title deeds by the government to the houses they had occupied for decades before 1994?’ … ‘[H]ow would he explain to them that their rights would be cancelled and converted to leasehold?’ How would he explain such a shift to the communal property associations to which land had been restituted?”5

Anyone doubting what “custodianship” in practice would entail should read the article which reveals the EFF’s thinking, “The EFF has been demanding state custodianship over all land for many years. On this basis, as the EFF puts it, all title deeds will become ‘meaningless’ and current landowners will need (revocable) 25-year leases from the state to keep using the homes, farms, factories, or other business premises they previously owned.”

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Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Despite the many warnings, cries of alert, and dire misgivings around the concept of “custodianship,” the ANC has finally tabled its proposed wording for the pending amendment to Section 25 of the Constitution. It is not substantially different from the EFF’s proposal.

Terence Corrigan, writing for the IRR in an aptly titled article, “The writing on the wall: Warnings unheeded and dangers imminent,” reports, “This would significantly sideline the courts from the process, and more profoundly, would direct the custodial taking of land in South Africa. Its formula reads: ‘The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions which enable state custodianship of land and for citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.’”6 (emphasis ours)

The Dangers Facing the Nation

Indeed, this “custodianship” issue is not something out-of-the-blue and whimsical. It is a renewed attempt to implement long-cherished policy goals, as this snippet shows, “In January 2019, moreover, a senior land department official, Masiphulo Mbongwa, told the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos (Switzerland) that the government planned to amend the property clause in the Constitution and then adopt a National Land Act – modelled on relevant water and mining legislation – which would give the state custodianship over all land.” (see Footnote 5) (emphasis ours)

Every thinking South Africans must cut through the veiled and mushy jargon that hides the grave danger the nation faces. The custodianship debate may serve as a radical proposal to make EWC more acceptable to those willing to compromise and accept EWC. Whatever the wording of the final Amendment Bill, the already-flawed provisions enabling “expropriation without compensation” will likely become law either way. This will result in the triumph of a bloodless revolution that will snuff out the principle of private property and establish in law a fundamental objective of a communist regime…

Whatever the outcome, the “custodianship” flag has been hoisted. It is a red flag and will only galvanize those hell-bent on “transforming” the country toward ever more radical goals.

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This is not a matter of economics or even social justice. A grave moral question is at stake here, much bigger than the land issue. Two of God’s Commandments enshrine the right to private property. If passed, this legislation will be the legalization of theft. Thus, it is a matter of conscience for all South Africans who must decide to reject error. “Confiscation” is not a Constitutional right. Legalized theft must be resisted with all legal, peaceful and prayerful means if the nation is to avoid plunging into an abyss of chaos, confusion and misery!

May God Almighty look down in Mercy on this beloved piece of His creation—South Africa—and guide its people on the paths of goodness, truth and beauty, from which may arise peaceful and harmonious solutions to all the pressing problems.

This contribution is made possible by Peace in the Land – a special campaign of Family Action South Africa. For more information, please e-mail: [email protected].

Photo Credit (Top):  © Delphotostock – stock.adobe.com


  1. https://www.politicalpartydb.org/wp-content/uploads/Statutes/SouthAfrica/South-Africa_EFF-Constitution_2014.pdf.
  2. https://dailyfriend.co.za/2021/05/20/the-eff-hijacks-the-ad-hoc-committee-with-tacit-anc-agreement/.
  3. https://www.biznews.com/thought-leaders/2021/05/13/ewc-sa-uninvestable.
  4. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-03-24-expropriation-bill-not-just-about-land-but-all-property-divergent-groups-warn-mps/.
  5. https://dailyfriend.co.za/2021/05/27/has-the-anc-leopard-changed-its-ndr-spots/.
  6. https://dailyfriend.co.za/2021/06/04/the-writing-on-the-wall-warnings-unheeded-and-dangers-imminent/.

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