The Joint Constitutional Review Committee, established to review the property clause of the constitution, is an unusual plebiscite as it is neither comprehensive nor representative, despite receiving more than 700,000 written submissions and hearing untold oral submissions countrywide. The committee concluded its final hearing on August 4. Its main question to South Africans was: should section 25 (and other sections) of the constitution be amended to allow the state to expropriate land in the public interest without compensation? If so, how should it be amended? That is the wrong question, says Ruth Hall, University of the Western Cape professor at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas). Section 25 is a carefully crafted piece of legislation, she says, and citizens cannot be expected to pronounce on matters of constitutional law. Hall’s comment highlights a disconnection in the debate about land in which the idea of land reform and expropriation without compen...

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