New land expropriation laws for South Africa are coming

 ·15 Feb 2023

The public comment period for controversial new land expropriation laws is drawing to a close, with South Africans having until 6 March 2023 to submit their views.

The Expropriation Bill – which was rejected in 2021 – found new life in 2022 and was passed by the National Assembly in September 2022. The bill moved on to the National Council of Provinces, which reopened the proposed laws for public comment.

If passed by the NCOP, the bill will move on to the president to be signed into law.

Broadly, the bill seeks to:

  • Provide for the expropriation of property for a public purpose or in the public interest;
  • Regulate the procedure for the expropriation of property for a public purpose or in the public interest, including payment of compensation;
  • Identify certain instances where the provision of nil compensation may be just and equitable for expropriation in the public interest;
  • Repeal the Expropriation Act, 1975 (Act No. 63 of 1975); and to provide for matters connected therewith.

In its current form, the bill allows the expropriation of land only for public purposes and in the interest of the public, as stipulated in Section 25 of the Constitution.

While Section 25(3) requires the amount of compensation for land to be “just and equitable” – reflecting an equitable balance between the public interest and the interests of those affected – the bill makes it possible for expropriation of land with “nil compensation” under specific circumstances.

These circumstances include abandoned land, state land, or land held for speculative purposes.

The National Assembly noted that the purpose of the expropriation bill is to repeal the existing Expropriation Act to provide a common framework in line with the constitution to guide the processes and procedures for the expropriation of property by the organs of the state.

The assembly also said it would seek to provide considerations where nil compensation may be appropriate in the public interest.

It further added in a statement that the portfolio committee on public works and infrastructure had engaged with the public, and organised citizen groups, political parties and traditional leaders for their views on the bill.

The ANC government has relied on the passing of the bill to pursue its policy of land expropriation without compensation after it failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to change the Constitution to accomplish this.

Opposition parties like the DA and the Freedom Front Plus have opposed the bill, and have tried to include clauses that limit its reach – such as making the regulations only apply to state-owned land – however, these have been defeated in votes.

Other parties, like the EFF, have objected to the bill for the opposite reason – saying the laws do not go far enough and should push for the complete nationalisation of all land under the state.

The parties, along with other civil action groups, have warned that the bill is a threat to private land ownership and could lead to land grabs and seizure of property by the state. Further, the mere threat of expropriation without compensation will do damage to investor confidence and damage the economy, they warned.

The government, through the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, has downplayed these claims, calling it ‘fear mongering’.

The department said that there would be no arbitrary land seizures and that the laws aren’t going to be in place to re-enact what was done under apartheid with private property.

South Africans can submit comment on the bill until 6 March.

Read: Land expropriation bill moves ahead – as government tries to calm fears over land grabs

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