Trevor Manuel. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Trevor Manuel. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Trevor Manuel, the former finance minister and one of four investment envoys appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to sell SA to investors, said on Wednesday that explaining SA’s ongoing land debate had been tougher than expected.

In February, the ANC partnered with the EFF in Parliament to vote through a motion to expropriate land without compensation, causing the rand to weaken and intensifying investor fear.

Ramaphosa has given the envoys — Manuel; former Standard Bank CEO Jacko Maree; businesswoman Phumzile Langeni; and former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas — and his economic adviser, Trudi Makhaya, a target of $100bn in investments over the next five years.

Radical move on land

But many within his target market were concerned that the radical move on land could harm property rights, the financial sector and food security. Parliament’s review committee is crisscrossing the country holding public hearings on whether section 25 of the Constitution – which deals with property rights – should be changed.

"Communicating this [issue], I think, is a bigger challenge than what we thought," said Manuel, who served as finance minister under presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe.

He said at a discussion held by the Obama Foundation in Johannesburg on Wednesday that land was a "complex" and "unresolved matter".

Section 25 was added to the Constitution at the dawn of democracy to uphold property rights, Manuel said, "and we also recognised within that clause that some of the properties that people had accumulated in SA were by means not fair".

"The Constitution required us to draft a piece of legislation to create an instrument that would allow for judicial oversight, [but] we failed to actually produce the legislation required by the Constitution," he said.

Subsection 6 of section 25, which "Parliament must enact" according to the Constitution, says: "A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an act of Parliament, either to tenure, which is legally secure, or to comparable redress."

Manuel said the government had recognised that agricultural land was important for food security and income generation, though there was now pent-up demand for farmland.

"But the bigger challenge in SA is actually urban land," he said, referring to the sprawling informal settlements that surround the country’s cities.

Manuel also said section 26 of the Constitution, which requires the state to provide access to adequate housing, "hasn’t been dealt with. And so in the process of inward migration and urbanisation, people basically just set up where they can and many of the battles are actually about urban land."

Government needed to take heed of the opinions aired at public hearings and then draw on expert advice within a "rational, orderly and inclusive" process. Addressing the issue would require "outside agency, such as the judiciary".

Despite these uncertainties, Ramaphosa’s investment drive has already borne fruit. During his visit to the Middle East and Nigeria in July, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia pledged $10bn each to his cause.

With Genevieve Quintal