Parliament’s ad hoc committee tasked with amending section 25 of the constitution, or the property clause, has set the ball rolling for the proposed legislative changes as it moves to get most of its work done before the May elections.

However, the committee’s draft programme, which was released on Thursday, just about confirmed that the issue will be handed over to the next parliament after the elections. This means the amendment, which is meant to ease expropriation of land without compensation to address skewed land ownership patterns dating back to apartheid and colonial eras, might not be passed if the ANC and EFF fail to secure a two-thirds majority between them.

On Thursday, the National Assembly unanimously adopted a draft resolution by ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu for the dissolution of the National Assembly.

Parliament rises on March 20 for constituency period ahead of the polls. However, in terms of the constitution, the assembly remains competent to function from the time it is dissolved or its term expires, until the day before the first day of polling. The adopted resolution also prevents bills and other business from lapsing when the house is dissolved.

Thoko Didiza, who chairs the ad hoc committee, said on Thursday that the committee will consult the chief whips of the parties represented in parliament to allow the members of the ad hoc committee to continue working after parliament rises.

According to the committee’s draft programme, the proposed amendment will be published for public comment only during the week of May 6 (two days before the elections) after consultations with various interested parties, including academics, experts and organisations that represent farmers. The public will have up to 30 days to comment.

In December the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces adopted a contentious report that called for a constitutional amendment to make it explicit that expropriation without compensation can be used as a means to address skewed land ownership patterns.

Parliament’s legal advisers also told members of the committee that they will also have to refer the bill to the National House of Traditional Leaders as the matter concerns land, as well as provincial legislatures. This process will also require 30 days, but it can run concurrently with the public consultation phase.

ANC MP Stan Maila said it will be crucial for the ad hoc committee to interrogate the recent court case involving parliament and AfriForum to prepare for any possible court challenges. 

This was after the high court in Cape Town had dismissed lobby group AfriForum’s urgent application to stop the report by the joint constitutional review committee from being passed on to the National Assembly as an interim measure pending its main court action. In the second leg of its application, the lobby group wants a declaratory order that the adoption of the report on land expropriation without compensation by the joint constitutional review committee was unlawful and should be set aside. It wants the public participation process reviewed.