Albie Sachs. Picture: The Herald
Albie Sachs. Picture: The Herald

Former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs warned MPs not to rush to amend section 25 of the constitution, in order to ensure the credibility of the process.

Sachs, who was involved in drafting SA’s constitution, briefed  parliament’s ad hoc committee tasked with amending section 25 of the constitution on Friday. Though he supported the need to change the status quo of land ownership in SA,he expressed concern that it seems the process is being rushed, which could compromise its integrity.

In December 2018, the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces adopted a contentious report that called for a constitutional amendment to make it explicit that expropriation without compensation could be used to address skewed land ownership patterns in the country. 

The ad hoc committee is now rushing to process the proposed legislative changes before the May general elections. It’s under particular pressure, given that parliament rises on March 20 for a constituency period ahead of the polls (though the assembly remains competent to function until the day before polling begins).

Though Sachs believes that the current land ownership patterns are “ not satisfactory”, he said he is “alarmed that the amendment has to be done by the present parliament”.

It does, however, seems more likely that the matter will be finalised by the next parliament, which means the amendment might not be passed if the ANC and EFF fail to secure a two-thirds majority between them.

It’s also likely to be challenged in court by various stakeholders and political parties. This means the process to amend the constitution could be stymied, pending the conclusion of a court process that may go all the way to the Constitutional Court.

While Sachs  said amending section 25 would be a “great moment” for SA, it would also be “painful and disruptive”.

Also addressing members of the ad hoc committee, former cabinet member Valli Moosa said MPs should ensure that the amendment contributes to nation building.

Moosa, who was also involved in the drafting of the constitution, emphasised that, given the importance of amending specifically the Bill of Rights, the process should be meticulous and not give the impression that it may have been  rushed.

Ruth Hall, from the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land & Agrarian Studies, called for a package of solutions to address the land issue, including clear compensation policies to back up expropriation.

The committee will meet again on Friday to continue its work.