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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Land issue likely to shape ANC’s elective conference results

Land remained an emotive issue to garner support from grassroots party branches for those vying for top positions.

In the run-up to the ANC elective conference this year, land is likely to remain a battleground and often be invoked as a proxy for broader ideological divisions in the party, says professor Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) at the University of the Western Cape.

With ANC factional battles looming ahead of the December gathering – the party’s highest decision-making event – land remained an emotive issue to garner support from grassroots party branches for those vying for top positions.
According to Hall, the failure by parliament on 7 December last year to pass the Constitution Amendment Bill meant there was no formal process towards any change in the property clause.

“What is crucial politically this year is whether or how the state will respond to the mounting demands for access to land by landless and homeless people in urban as well as rural areas.

“But fundamentally, the impediment to people getting access to the land they need and want has been political, not legal and not constitutional,” she said.

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Hopeful about the Expropriation Bill being back in parliament this year and likely to be passed, Hall said the outpouring of public opinion in favour of changing the constitution over the past few years signalled “the depth of frustration more broadly, with persistent inequality and the refusal of the state to tackle head on its foundations”.

She cautioned: “What the public debate has tended to miss is that, even if the state takes property without compensating, the state as a landlord is still extracting rents from black farmers settled on public land.

“Even if the state gets the land for free, under current policy the land will not be made available for free to citizens.”

Hall said while the state had an option to expropriate with or without compensation, it did not give anyone a guarantee it would do so. Former chair of the parliamentary ad hoc committee on land expropriation Dr Mathole
Motshekga this week kept mum on whether the ANC would pursue another motion to amend Section 25 of the constitution,

which would pave the way for the expropriation of land without compensation. An ANC insider did not rule
out another attempt this year by the governing party to table a similar motion in parliament, but warned it might require “a rigorous lobbying for support from the DA [Democratic Alliance] and the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] – highly unlikely due to both parties determined to push the ANC out of power by 2024”.

After voting against the proposal, the EFF said the refusal by the ANC to “join us in making fundamental amendments to the constitution to repossess our land from settlers and to change exploitative forms of land tenure
is the deepest form of betrayal of the aspirations of black people by the leeches now in power”.

“The Bill also completely ignored the 2018 motion on the question of state custodianship of land and the fact that this idea of land tenure received overwhelming support during public hearings in both the CRC [constitutional review committee] process and in the process initiated by the ad hoc committee,” the EFF said at the time.

The DA, too, objected strenuously to the proposed amendments and made it unlikely for a meeting of the minds by the major political parties.

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“The DA has always argued that this Bill should never have been brought to parliament, as it does nothing to help landless South Africans who have been let down by the ANC’s failing land reform programme,” said DA MP Dr Annelie Lotriet.

“If anything, the ANC and the EFF wasted time on a process that was never going to address the land question…

“For all the years that the committee has spent trying to take away the property rights of South Africans and nationalise all land, focus should rather have been on opening access to state land, improving tenure security and
providing support to emerging farmers.”

While advocate Paul Hoffman, executive director of Accountability Now, saw last year’s voting on the land question as having exposed the new EFF-DA unprecedented political axis, said the amendment of Section 25 should not occupy much space in the Bill – “something already provided for in the constitution”.

Failure to implement a land redistribution programme, has proven to be one of the ANC’s weaknesses in a country with a long history of a skewed and unequal ownership.