ANC supporters. Picture: REUTERS
ANC supporters. Picture: REUTERS

It is not just the land public hearings that have prompted the ANC to seek to amend the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation, but also the findings of internal polling commissioned by the governing party.

Business Day understands that the ANC’s internal polling identified unemployment and land as the two top concerns of ordinary South Africans ahead of the key 2019 election.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the party’s decision on Tuesday to seek to amend the Constitution, causing the rand to weaken and renewing jitters among investors.

Ramaphosa’s announcement came hours after Statistics SA revealed that the unemployment rate had worsened to 27.2% in the second quarter of 2018, from 26.7% in the first quarter. More than 8.9-million people are unemployed or have given up looking for work, a statistic that has been described as a national emergency.

Sources, who wished to remain anonymous and who attended the induction of the ANC’s national executive committee, as well as the lekgotla over the weekend, told Business Day the land issue featured as a key priority for about 40% of those polled, a figure that could be significant in a close electoral race. One source said people tended to come out to vote when they had strong convictions, therefore the strong sentiment over land could not be ignored, particularly if the ANC hoped to outflank the EFF.

Another source confirmed this, adding there was no final word at the economic transformation committee meeting, which dealt with the land issue, on what should be done.

Some in the committee felt the ANC would be undermining constitutional processes should it pronounce on the amendment, the source said.

During the plenary session, Ramaphosa had "stepped in" to say the ANC had to be seen to be taking the views of the people on board. "He indicated that the ANC had to be more proactive."

It was acknowledged that the ANC had not been "visible" during the parliamentary constitutional review committee public hearings on amending the Constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation.

Another source said the polling had indicated that support for the ANC was "more positive", but off a low base after the tenure of former president Jacob Zuma. It had also shown that issues such as crime and e-tolls in Gauteng were concerns for the electorate.

ANC spokesman Pule Mabe could not immediately be reached for comment.

At a media briefing on Wednesday, the ANC dismissed questions about whether it was seeking to score electoral points with its stance on land.

Party head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana said the ANC could not ignore the voice of the people evident at the public hearings. It did not want to "play to the gallery", but was seeking to return the land to those dispossessed, he said.

ANC national executive committee member Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said on Wednesday the party had always been on the right side of history and that the land issue was not a new one for the ANC.