Kgalema Motlanthe speaks out against changing the constitution

Former President of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe sits during speeches to uMkhonto We Sizwe Sizwe (MK) members at Nasrec, Johannesburg on 6 October 2017. The MK members are attending a two day all inclusive Veterans’ National Conference. Picture: Yeshiel Panchia

The former president says government should worry less about fiddling with the law and spend more time effecting actual, practical land reform.

Former state president Kgalema Motlanthe has openly come out in opposition to his party’s position on land expropriation without compensation and changing the constitution.

Speaking at a land indaba hosted by City Press and Rapport on Wednesday morning, Motlanthe said the key focus of land reform should be to expand property ownership to more people by giving them title deeds.

Motlanthe’s comments evidently go against an announcement by the ANC at the end of July when, in a televised late-night press briefing, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the ruling party would be supporting an amendment to the constitution to make land expropriation without compensation “more explicit”.

Ramaphosa said that it had become “patently clear” that “the people” wanted expropriation without compensation to become “more explicit” in the constitution, to go beyond the current constitutional provisions for expropriation in the public interest.

He said the party would continue to follow parliamentary processes to change the law with the ultimate aim of increasing agricultural production, people’s access to land, and just and equitable redistribution, in a manner that would boost the economy.

He had earlier said that this was proof of democracy in action and was the ultimate effect of “what we have fought for”.

A recent survey, however, suggested that nearly a third of South Africans may never have even heard of land expropriation without compensation, while most reject the idea of nationalisation of land once they understand it.

Motlanthe famously, and somewhat controversially, headed up a high-level parliamentary panel aimed at assessing and reviewing all existing legislation in South Africa. One of the headline recommendations of that panel was that the laws governing tribal land should be amended so that that people living under chiefs and kings (who Motlanthe called “tinpot dictators”) should be given title deeds.

That infuriated, for one, Zulu monarch Goodwill Zwelithini, who threatened to secede the land under the Ingonyama Trust and in his sole control from the rest of South Africa. An apparently penitent President Ramaphosa then went to see the king and reassure him that Motlanthe’s panel’s recommendation was not going to be acted upon.

On Wednesday, Motlanthe emphasised that the constitution in any case doesn’t need to be changed to make expropriation without compensation possible, even in its current state. He laid the blame for failures in land reform on poor implementation and said the problem should be dealt with in manageable phases using a planned approach.

He said people had become disheartened about the challenge of land reform because they weren’t breaking it into manageable tasks.

The former interim president, who also served as deputy president under Jacob Zuma, recommended that state land, both rural and urban, be the first target for redistribution to make more people landowners, before even looking at redistributing private land.

Other panellists at the indaba, including Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, likewise recognised that changing the constitution would be meaningless if the capacity and appetite of the state to effect meaningful implementation were not improved.

(Compiled by Charles Cilliers)

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