Land expropriation without compensation has been endorsed by the Presidential Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture, but with the recommendation that it only be done in “specified circumstances”.
The constitution should be changed to clarify the criteria for these cases, said the panel, which released its final report yesterday.
“Taking into account the prohibition and protection of existing property rights, it is necessary that the constitution makes it explicit there are exceptional circumstances that warrant expropriation without compensation and that the detail and content is dealt with in a new Expropriation Act,” the report read.
Land held solely for speculative purposes and abandoned land included the conditions under which expropriation without compensation could be explored.
Other circumstances in which the policy may be applied are:
- Hopelessly indebted land;
- Unutilised land held by state entities;
- Land obtained through criminal activity;
- Land occupied and used by labour tenants and former labour tenants; and
- Informal settlement areas and inner-city buildings with absentee landlords.
The report made several policy and legislative recommendations regarding land redistribution. These included the scrapping of the willing buyer-willing seller approach and a mixed approach to tenure of communally owned land.
Expropriation without compensation, however, took centre stage in political reactions to the report.
Legal expert and land rights activist Johan Lorenzen praised what he described as the measured approach of the report to the rights of those likely to be affected by land reform.
“It’s a fairly measured and conservative approach and not as radical as some might suggest. While it reduces compensation for the most part, it does not eliminate compensation for those actively using the land,” he said.
“I think minorities should take a positive view of this. Whether the more radical thinkers might not embrace that, I don’t know.
“But certainly minorities should be able to see that there are some losses that one faces, but largely their rights are protected and it is subject to reasonable and clear policy guidelines.
“It is very important to make the distinction between provisions made for expropriation without compensation in a clear and lawful legal framework and mass landgrabs with no policy direction or no rational governmental approach.”
The panel pointed out at length the limitations of land expropriation without compensation, including that it was not an all-encompassing solution to the need for land and would not immediately lead to sufficient and equitable availability of land.
Political analyst Andre Duvenhage, however, warned the adoption of the report could have dire consequences for the economy and the stability of rural communities.
“I believe it is a very strong symbolic gesture from the December 2017 ANC national conference.
“It is a resolution and President Cyril Ramaphosa is under a huge amount of pressure to adhere to all the resolutions. That is the reason I think the content of this report is taking us in the wrong direction.”
Duvenhage said the continuing drought in several parts of the country warranted that lawmakers tread carefully regarding stability in the farming environment.
“The transfer of ownership of land in traditional areas the report is asking for radical changes in the Ingonyama Trust and communally owned land, and my take on this is that [former president] Kgalema Motlanthe was right that it is not going to work there.
“It will ignite instability on a scale that we cannot predict.”