South Africa cranks up land reform

07 December 2018

REUTERS

A “No Entry” sign is seen at the entrance to a farm outside Witbank, Mpumalanga province, in South Africa, in July

A “No Entry” sign is seen at the entrance to a farm outside Witbank, Mpumalanga province, in South Africa, in July

THE two legislative Houses in South Africa this week adopted a report that recommends that land expropriation without compensation should be written into law. The country’s constitution will soon be amended for the first time in its nearly 25 years’ history.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party allied with the more radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to secure enough votes to pass the report by 209 to 91 votes in the National Assembly. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), called it “a flawed report”.

On Wednesday, the higher House adopted the report by eight provinces to one. The Chief Whip of the ANC said that a motion would be brought to the National Assembly yesterday to take the matter further.

It follows ten months of consultations, public hearings, and a commission on the desirability of amending the constitution. Many legal experts say that Section 25, which deals with property and land expropriation, already covers the issue sufficiently.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, shares this view. He said on Wednesday: “Action is more key than policy. Section 25 does empower the government to act. Looking at land reform over the years, very little has been done to redress. The key, again, is to let the locals be empowered to act, as opposed to the central government.”

In September, Archbishop Makgoba wrote in the South African Sunday Times: “While our history gives us no choice but to redistribute land, I am not happy with the way politicians are playing on people’s hunger for redress.”

Many believed that the President, Cyril Ramaphosa, was under pressure from the EFF, which campaigned under the slogan “Land appropriation without compensation”, to get the issue out of the way before next year’s elections.

“Currently, the debate is smokescreen for past inefficiency in dealing with this issue,” Archbishop Makoba said. “All of us — Church, business, government, and traditional leaders — must look at a solution. Urban land, and the dismantling of spatial apartheid housing, are key, and if changes are addressed to these, we have healing. If changes will improve the rural economy, we will have less chaos.”

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Land remains an emotive issue. The Natives Land Act, passed in the newly formed Union of South Africa in 1913, alloc­ated 7.5 per cent of arable land to Blacks, and the more fertile land to Whites. The Act was repealed in 1991.

In October, the EFF spokesperson on land, Sam Matiase, told a local newspaper that church land should not be exempt from land expropriation, but “must be put under the custody of the state for the benefit of people”.

The same month, it was announced that the Provincial Standing Committee of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) had asked that “an inventory of all land held by the Church be drawn up, with a view to making recommendations for the use of vacant land”. It also asked for theological reflections on expropriation without compensation. The ACSA is a significant landowner.

Archbishop Makgoba said on Wednesday: “The EFF will, of course, look at church [lands] as low-lying fruit, politically. I am yet to hear the specifics of how each will bring healing. I have spelt out how we as Church have to a little extent done this.”

He was referring to an Eastern Cape project, where two sizeable pieces of church land were placed in trust and returned to the descendants of the original communities, with the provision that the Church could take it back if it was not used properly.

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