Delegates celebrate at the 54th ANC national elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: MASI LOSI
Delegates celebrate at the 54th ANC national elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: MASI LOSI

In a dramatic ending to its 54th national conference, the ANC endorsed a resolution to change the Constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation. This came after a heated debate that nearly collapsed the gathering.

The party announced late on Wednesday night that it would initiate amendments to section 25 of the Constitution for this purpose.

In an attempt to mitigate possible damage to property rights and the financial sector as well as the effect on agriculture, land values and food production, outgoing ANC economic policy chief Enoch Godongwana said that the decision to amend the Constitution contained a caveat that it would be done "in a sustainable way".

The ANC holds 62% of the National Assembly, which means it cannot on its own change the Constitution. However, the EFF has on several occasions offered its 6% representation to the ANC to reach the required two-thirds majority should the party want it.

Godongwana said on Wednesday that there was no timeline on implementation.

The ANC national executive committee would first hold a workshop in January to be addressed by legal, agricultural and other experts to help define modalities of how and under what circumstances expropriation could occur.

The findings would be presented to the ANC’s January lekgotla and developed into legislation from there.

The land question is by far the most emotive in SA’s political discourse. This was reflected in the conference plenary when the commission on economic transformation presented its recommendations.

Godongwana said the environment was rowdy, tough and "nearly [the] collapsed conference". Newly elected ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe had to intervene to cool tempers.

"The final decision is that we agreed that the NEC will initiate amendments in the Constitution’s section 25 in order to achieve expropriation without compensation, but for that
to happen, it must be sustainable … What are the conditions
for sustainability?" Godongwana asked.

The decision also goes against newly elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign platform. He has advocated the retention of  the 2012 ANC policy decision,  in which expropriation
without compensation would apply only to land that was obtained illegally.

This is in stark contrast of the proposals by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was Ramaphosa’s rival in the race for the party’s presidency.

It was also President Jacob Zuma and his allies who fought hard for land expropriation without compensation at the policy conference.

Godongwana said that a lot  of work still needed to go into the proposal.

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