National 27.7.2016 06:29 am

Zuma still pondering ‘EFF-style land law’

President Jacob Zuma prepares his speech ahead of the State of the Nation Address (SoNA) in the National Assembly. (Photo: DOC)

President Jacob Zuma prepares his speech ahead of the State of the Nation Address (SoNA) in the National Assembly. (Photo: DOC)

The president is currently studying objections to the Expropriation Bill and has the option to send it back to parliament.

The passing of the Expropriation Bill has come under scrutiny by President Jacob Zuma.

The presidency on Monday said Zuma had asked Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and Thandi Modise, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), to advise him on the process followed by parliament in passing the Expropriation Bill.

The bill was passed by parliament earlier this year and referred to Zuma for rubber-stamping. It seeks to give the state greater powers to expropriate property, including land, from private individuals or companies for the “public purpose” or in the “public interest”.

Zuma, however, received a number of objections and submissions to the bill being passed into law. The presidency said the petitions raised a number of procedural issues which included:

  • The NCOP had fumbled in its procedures in some provinces, which were inconsistent with the constitution;
  • There had not been sufficient consultation with the public; and
  • The bill had never been referred to the National House of Traditional Leaders, as required by law.

“Accordingly, the president has requested parliament to advise him on process followed in passing the Bill,” the presidency said.

Should Zuma have reservations, particularly about whether it would stand up to constitutional muster, he has the option to refer it back to the National Assembly for further deliberations.

Land with mineral resources or that which was previously tribally occupied would be up for grabs, with the state having the power to take it from the owners, who would be given monetary compensation.

Government has traditionally applied a “willing buyer-willing seller” approach, but the new bill would enable it to acquire land without the owners’ consent.

The amount would be determined by the valuer-general. Last week, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said parliament’s passing of the bill provided legal certainty to the process of radical socioeconomic transformation.

It also set out the rules by which government could lay claim to land “in the public interest” and “for public purposes”. Should a dispute over money arise, the final arbiter would be the courts.

Labour federation Cosatu has strongly supported the “progressive provisions” in the proposed bill. It applauded that “clear timeframes” had been set out to resolve expropriation cases which, in the past, had been delayed “in perpetuity by the wealthy”.

But the proposed law has been met with opposition from several fronts, including the DA, which petitioned for Zuma to return the bill to parliament.

DA MP Anchen Dreyer referred to it as the “job-killing Expropriation Bill”, and said it was unconstitutional. She also claimed there had been insufficient public participation.

“If the president is at all serious about the constitution in general, and property rights in particular, he will not sign the bill,” she said.

The Free Market Foundation and the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) have also voiced their opposition to the legislation.

In an article published on Politicsweb, John Kane-Berman, CEO of the IRR, said government’s intentions regarding ownership of land was unclear. As land was taken away from white farmers, the state would then be the custodians and lease land to black farmers.

This is similar to proposals made by the Economic Freedom Fighters, although they insist that expropriated land would never need to be paid for; it can just be taken, as in their view the state should own all land.

But allowing small black farmers on communal land to acquire individual title to that land would be unpopular with traditional leaders, Kane-Berman said. The legislation had the potential to limit white farmers’ land rights, but without extending to black beneficiaries of land reform the rights that white farmers previously enjoyed.

“Instead, it would appear, more and more land is to be acquired by the state, with white and black farmers alike subject to its increasingly capricious behaviour,” said Kane-Berman.

Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said his party was opposed to the bill, even though the principle of expropriation was in place internationally and essential to development.

“In South Africa, however, the ANC government makes it a political issue. The ANC wants to abuse this bill as an emotional political play ball on land.

“Zuma falls in with the choir of the EFF, which says whites have stolen land,” Groenewald said.

“The president had, in reality, said that he has a new bill which is with Cabinet, that places a restriction on land ownership.

Through this, the size of large farms will be limited to 5 000 hectares, and enterprises such as plantations will be restricted to 12 000,” he said.

The EFF said the adoption of the bill was yet another piece of legislation based on “ethically unjustifiable logic”. EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi has argued that the bill was not an answer to the colonial question of land.

“Land in South Africa was acquired through a crime against humanity, colonialism and apartheid. These crimes were crimes of mass death, mass destitution and systematic dehumanisation of all black people.

“We reject the idea that for the purposes of land reform there must be money spent by the government or anyone else to redistribute land,” Ndlozi said.

The “willing buyer-willing seller” principle has, in the past, forced government to pay exorbitant amounts for land, frustrated the redistribution process and hamstrung its ability to achieve redistribution targets.

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