Mathole Motshekga. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Mathole Motshekga. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The chair of parliament’s ad hoc committee redrafting the property clause of the constitution has rubbished suggestions that SA’s drive to address skewed land ownership echoes Zimbabwe’s land grabs of two decades ago.

The catastrophic land grabs in Zimbabwe resulted in an economic and social crisis from which it has struggled to recover. Under former president Robert Mugabe’s land reform programme in 2000 and 2001, thousands of white farmers were forced from their farms, often violently. However, earlier in the year, the Zimbabwean government said it will start paying compensation to many white farmers who lost land, as it ramps up efforts to mend ties with the West.

The Zimbabwean government set aside $17.5m in this year’s budget for the compensation drive.

There is mounting fear that wholesale expropriation without compensation will discourage investment in SA, threaten food security and negatively affect economic activity and job creation. This comes at a time when the country is battling to tackle low growth and high unemployment.

“I went to Zimbabwe to talk to politicians and other people, [and asked] whether they have been observing what we are doing and whether there are similarities on how they handled things and how we handle things, and they said no,” committee chair Mathole Motshekga said on Thursday.

“This is because in Zimbabwe we had Zanu-PF. It was not a multiparty [process] like ours. Here we can pride ourselves on not being a one party state; we are a multiparty democracy and we listen to all the voices. So there is no comparison between us and Zimbabwe,” he said.

The Banking Association SA (Basa), which represents all registered banks in the country, has said that while it is essential for the country to deal with land reform it has to be done without discouraging investment.

During public hearings in 2018, Basa warned that a policy of  expropriation without compensation would result in high levels of debt impairments and the value of property as security would be reduced‚ with many investors looking to divest from property to avoid future losses.

Section 25 of the constitution

In 2018, parliament agreed to establish a multiparty, ad hoc committee after it adopted a report of the constitutional review committee on the review of section 25. The report recommended that parliament amend section 25 of the constitution to make explicit that which is implicit regarding expropriation of land without compensation, as a legitimate option to tackle skewed land ownership patterns dating back to the apartheid and colonial eras.

The committee met on Thursday to consider the nuts and bolts of how the clause should be redrafted. The draft bill will be published in the Government Gazette next week, opening the door for public participation. The committee further intends to publish an advert on January 2 that calls for public input until the end of that month. However, the DA says this will not give the public enough time to comment on the proposed draft.

This process will require further public participation and the final bill is likely to be published by the end of March 2020.

The draft bill suggests that national legislation must set out specific circumstances in which a court may determine on nil  compensation at nil in circumstances yet to be outlined.

So there could be a situation in which payment for expropriated land is not made but this “must be just and equitable, reflecting an equitable balance between the public interest and the interests of those affected, having regard to all relevant circumstances”.

The DA and other opposition parties, including the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), remain firmly opposed to expropriating land without compensation. ACDP MP Steve Swart said it is also crucial for the committee to consider an opinion by the department of trade & industry regarding the effect on the economy, particularly as SA is rapidly approaching a fiscal cliff.

In November, department officials warned against expropriating land owned by foreign nationals, saying it contravened existing bilateral investment treaties. Doing so could also result in SA being denied access to key markets such as the US, they said.

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