Land reform – a death grip or a helping hand?

By Athenkosi Sawutana

After the EFF and the ANC earlier voted to begin a process in Parliament to amend the Constitution so that land can be expropriated without compensation, the DA – the biggest party to oppose this motion – on Monday called it a bid to cause racial divisions and endanger property rights in South Africa.

Motion equal to populism

.“We regard the attempt to amend the Constitution as nothing but a populist effort to scapegoat the Constitution for the failure of the ANC,” said the party’s leader Mmusi Maimane.

Deprivation of property

The party said compensated expropriation was not an impediment to land reform and the model pursued by the EFF – where all land is owned by the state - would strip all property owners of their property.

“Homeowners would be stripped of their homes, business owners of their businesses, innovators of their intellectual property, and more,” he warned.

“We reject outright the suggestion that people cannot own property or should be permanent tenants of an all-powerful state,” added the party leader.

 Absolute power is a mistake

According to the party, it would be fallacious to give government power over land as it would be used  irresponsibly.

“We do not believe that any government should be given this power. Once the government has this power, it will be very difficult to take it away,” said Maimane.

Causing divisions

Mmusi accused the protagonists of this motion of causing a divide between South Africans.

“We reject the hate-filled racist undertones employed by the EFF and the ANC in this debate, which seeks to divide the country according to race for narrow political ends, and which seeks to de-legitimise those who disagree.”

However, Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies believes that the ANC will implement a different version of the EFF’s policy of state-owned property.

No impact on the economy

According to her, the governing party is aware of the impact uncompensated expropriation will have on the economy.   

 “The ANC is highly aware that R160 billions of farmland debt is sitting with the big 4 banks and other key creditors and it knows that whatever it does it will need to engage with the financial sector,” commented Hall.

“I think we need to understand this within a wider framework of how the ANC approaches economic policy. For that reason, I don’t think we need to suspect that we will have any massive capital outflow,” she added.

Protecting the interests of the dispossessed

According to her, time has come for government to protect the interests of the historically disadvantaged.

‘’The government is needed to override the interest of the private property owners, otherwise current land owners will determine which land is available for land reform.  Whenever there is a direct conflict between people who have been dispossessed and the owner of the land who doesn’t want to sell, the government has always backed down and supported the private property owner in every case.”

Finally facing land appropriation        

She is of the view that the ANC is being forced to finally face an issue that it has neglected since the party came to power.

“What we are experiencing here is that the ANC is being pushed to recognise that it will need to intervene in the land market and stand up for the rights of those people who’ve been dispossessed,” said Hall. 

“The constitutionalists within the ANC know that the motion was unnecessary, and that the main obstacle was not the constitution but the ANC’s failure to implement a land reform programme,” she continued.

Issue of compensation

Hall pointed out that the governing party may invoke compensation in certain situations, but It will need to set out conditions for expropriation without compensation.

She said expropriation is provided for in the constitution if the compensation is just and equitable. However, it may not be equitable to pay zero compensation.

Hall advised that compensation should be done on a spectrum of 0 to 100%. According to her the government should look at circumstantial and historical factors before deciding whether to compensate or not.

“We need to have some kind of spectrum from 0 to 100% compensation for different situations, depending on whether the owner occupies the land, the purposes of the expropriation, when the land was acquired or whether it benefited from apartheid subsidies.”

According to Hall, recent acquisitions should be compensated.

“People who acquired their land 10 years or maybe 20 years ago should be compensated”.

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