JOHANNESBURG – The Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture has proposed amending the South African Constitution to allow the government to seize land without compensation… but only in limited circumstances.
The recommendations in the final report were released Sunday by Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza, and members of the panel.
According to Reuters the report “poured water on wholesale land seizures without payment – as feared by some farmers, investors and foreign governments”.
The specific “justifiable” circumstances under which the report recommends that expropriation without compensation could be applied, include:
- abandoned land;
- land held purely for speculative purposes;
- land already occupied and used by labour tenants and former labour tenants; and
- inner city buildings with absentee landlords.
The SA Parliament is due to start debates on proposed changes to the land expropriation bill in October.
“It is important that the Bill must specify much more clearly the meaning of instances that would amount to “nil” compensation,” the panel, appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, said in the report.
The report also recommended the Land Claims Court be reformed to become the main expropriation body, and be given additional powers to adjudicate on all land related matters, including the calculations of the value of land targeted for appropriation and what rights affected land owners were entitled to.
On Thursday a draft motion likely to be pushed through by the ANC in parliament is set to give a new parliamentary committee until March 2020 to report back on the proposed changes to land reform laws.
The panel, however, proposed the tweaking of the expropriation bill be finalised by the end of 2019.
Report is Disappointing and Flawed, says Saai
The Southern Africa Agri-Initiative (Saai) said the report is “disappointing” and “flawed” because “it is not morally justifiable that individual landowners, who legally bought their properties, should foot the bill of land reform as a national responsibility.”
Chairperson Dr Theo de Jager said: “South Africa deserves better. After reading the over simplified, inaccurate and one sided version of the history of land ownership, I realized it will not contribute to any solution.”
He said the history contains ‘blatant falsehoods” without even a “hint of a reference to overgrazing, arson, crime or intimidation that landowners have to endure daily in South Africa at the hands of farm squatters”.
Saai questioned the panel’s figures for farm evictions and also rejected the panel’s demand that the state take over the Ingonyama Trust (or any other trust).
“This is an attack on both the cultural identity and the spiritual goods of the Zulu people, and on trusts as legitimate legal entities. Thousands of immovable properties in South Africa are held in trusts, and the panel does not shed light on how such draconian action will be limited to the Ingonyama Trust. There is no reason to expropriate the Zulu’s historic heartland or to grab it from their hands,” said Dr de Jager.
He said Saai “fully endorses the panel’s proposal that title deeds should be transferred to land reform beneficiaries. This will prevent a scenario where, in 10 years’ time, South Africa will again have two categories of farmers: white farmers who own their farms, and black farmers who have been condemned to eternal tenant status on state-leased land.
“However, this proposal appears incongruous in the same document that also recommends expropriation without compensation – unless the amendment to the Constitution specifies that this applies only to white people.”
DA rejects Land Reform Panel’s “high-risk, low-reward” report
Thandeka Mbabama MP – DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development – said the DA believes that legal and thorough land reform is essential in South Africa.
“However… corruption of the ANC government over 25 years have brought land reform to its knees, and now the political play to expropriate land is a last desperate bandage on a very serious injury,” said Mbabama.
She said the DA therefore rejects the report and finds that “its suggestions are high-risk, and at best promise low-reward for those in need of meaningful land reform.”
The presidential panel, headed by Vuyo Mahlati, was not unanimous in giving the green light for the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution, for the expropriation of land without compensation, she pointed out.
“Worse still, the report rejects providing land title and security of tenure to South Africans living on communal land. The DA is highly dismayed by this outcome. Denying title to communal land perpetuates the wrongs of our past, and denies ownership of land to hundreds of thousands of people,” she said.
Mbabama added: “We also cannot understand how an audit of foreign land ownership would advance land reform. The two are unrelated, and such an audit would thus be an enormous waste of limited public money.”
She said the DA will study the report carefully and warned “if land reform is not approached correctly, the consequences will be disastrous.” land ownership for more South Africans.
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana/Reuters and Jenni Baxter/SAPeople; Editing by Susan Fenton/Reuters and Jenni Baxter/SAPeople)
Read the full report here.