South Africa takes a step closer to land expropriation – but opponents say it can’t afford it, after the coronavirus

The National Assembly has agreed to re-establish the multiparty committee to initiate and introduce legislation amending Section 25 of the Constitution.

The Committee was first established on 25 July 2019 to clarify parts of the Constitution that allow for the expropriation of land without compensation as a legitimate option for land reform to address the historic arbitrary land dispossession of the majority of South Africans.

However, the outbreak of the coronavirus affected the committee’s programme, and its term expired on 29 May 2020 before it could complete its mandate.

The National Assembly agreed to re-establish the Committee with the same composition and powers as its predecessor, and instructed it to incorporate in its work the proceedings and all the work of the previous committee until its term expired.

The committee has been given until 31 December 2020 as the deadline by which to report back to the house.

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 finalise 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-utilised 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?”

Soth Africa cannot afford land exploration: DA

In a statement on the reconvening of the committee, Democratic Alliance MP Annelie Lotriet warned that South Africa cannot afford the financial fallout of allowing land exploration without compensation.

Citing finance minister Tito Mboweni’s dire Budget Speech last week, Lotriet said that the country needs more than loans and investment from the private sector to survive.

“The truth is that nothing dissuades investors like a threat to the security of their assets, regardless of how innocuously it is couched. Local and foreign investors will think twice before investing in South Africa,” she said.

“The last thing South Africa can afford now, amid a pandemic and an economic crisis that has been in the making for 26 years and exacerbated by the lockdown, is a focus on expropriation without compensation.

“Jobs are being lost, businesses are closing down, farm attacks are escalating and the state’s supposed safety net such as SASSA and the UIF are letting desperate citizens down.”

The US has also 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.

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South Africa takes a step closer to land expropriation – but opponents say it can’t afford it, after the coronavirus