Coronavirus hits South Africa’s plans for land expropriation

The plan to amend section 25 of South Africa’s Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation has been put on hold due to the ongoing coronavirus lockdown.

In a parliamentary meeting on Friday evening (22 May), the committee responsible for amending the Consitution said it needs for more time to complete its work and that it will send a letter to the speaker of the National Assembly asking for an extension.

The committee said that it would not include a specific time frame in the extension, but instead would ask for a postponement until the country’s lockdown levels allow for physical meetings.

This is important as the process still requires public hearings, it said.

Government published a draft land expropriation bill for public comment in December 2019. President Cyril Ramaphosa has previously said that South Africa must finalise its land expropriation policy in 2020.

“This year we are going to have to finalize the legislation and the constitutional construct on the land question,” he said at a conference in January.

“One of the things we have been asking for is the business community to come forward with solutions of resolving the centuries-old problem of land,” he told the country’s largest business lobby group. “I would like to see the business community taking this issue up rather more seriously.”

Ramaphosa asked business leaders to play a more proactive role in land expropriation through a donations policy, which will allow for companies to voluntarily give up under-utilized land to communities whose land was taken away.

“What is a certainty is that the land question has to be addressed. As South Africa we cannot run away from it,” he said. “The key issue for us is: Are we going to be part of the solution or are we going to be part of the problem?”

Press ahead 

The US has warned of the damaging effects of land expropriation without compensation, with US secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating that the policy will be ‘disastrous’ for South Africa’s economy.

Pompeo said that the policy proposal is an example of centralised planning that has failed in other African states like Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

“South Africa is debating an amendment to permit the expropriation of private property without compensation,” he said. “That would be disastrous for that economy, and most importantly for the South African people.”

African economies need ‘strong rule of law, respect for property rights, regulation that encourages investment’ for inclusive and sustainable economic growth, Pompeo said.

Despite these warning, president Cyril Ramaphosa said in February that the government will press ahead with plans to distribute more land to the black majority in an orderly fashion, warning that a failure to do so would perpetuate an injustice that dates back to apartheid rule and constrain the economy.

He reiterated that the government supports changing the constitution to make it easier for it to take land without compensation.

“Land grabs will not be allowed to happen in our country,” Ramaphosa said. “We refuse to be reckless.”

Read: All of South Africa moving to level 3 lockdown from 1 June – here are all the changes

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Coronavirus hits South Africa’s plans for land expropriation