President Jacob Zuma announced dramatic and brand-spanking new land reform plans addressing the National House of Traditional Leaders on Friday, saying government will undertake a "pre-colonial" land-audit and change the Constitution to facilitate restitution without compensation.
He told traditional leaders, convening in the Old House of Assembly at Parliament in Cape Town, that "land hunger is real" and proceeded to outline plans not mentioned in either the State of the Nation Address, the subsequent parliamentary debate or hinted at in the budget speech.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), reacted sharply, calling on the African National Congress (ANC) to "rein in" the president: "He's gone rogue on land reform, contradicting both his own Cabinet and the ANC's parliamentary caucus."
Zuma told delegates government is looking at two critical interventions: the land audit and amendments to the Constitution.
His plans directly contradict his own caucus, who this week voted down a motion in the National Assembly to investigate the constitutional amendments Zuma is now championing. Jackson Mthembu, the ANC's chief whip, on Friday rejected criticism of Article 25, the so-called "property clause" in the Constitution, tweeting also on Friday that land reform failed because the ANC neglected to implement it properly.
Zuma's annual address to the traditional leaders is known for being controversial. This year he touted two constitutional amendments.
"First we must undertake a pre-colonial audit of land ownership, use and occupation patterns. Once the audit has been completed, a single law should be developed to address the issue of land restitution without compensation," Zuma said.
"The necessary constitutional amendments would then be undertaken to effect this process.
"We are also looking at the possible re-design and establishment of the National Land Claims Commission as a Chapter 9 Institution, so that it can have the necessary powers to help us reverse this historical injustice. This would also require a Constitutional amendment," he added.
This is the first time the issue of a "pre-colonial" audit has been referred to. He did however last week say government will amend laws to allow expropriation without compensation.
Zuma said government is also considering establishing the National Land Claims Commission as a Chapter Nine institution, which will also require a constitutional amendment.
"All of this will require unity and common purpose and action in the country, to ensure redress and meaningful reconciliation. Naturally government and the governing party would want to ensure that this is an orderly process. We do not support chaos and illegal land grabs. Actions must be informed by the Constitution and the laws of the land," Zuma said.
Maimane lashed Zuma, saying his remarks show Zuma has no vision or policies of his own, only "dangerous rhetoric".
"Zuma states that the current constitutional provisions are a hindrance to meaningful land reform. This is just a dishonest attempt to excuse the ANC's own failures in government. In fact, it is corruption and bad policy that have been the greatest inhibitors to land redistribution and reform," Maimane said in a statement.
He accused Zuma of "whipping up emotions" and trying to escape the ANC's culpability in failed policies.
"Today was a perfect opportunity for President Zuma to address the issue of land ownership in rural areas that fall under the jurisdiction of Traditional Leaders. He could have echoed the call made by King Goodwill Zwelithini for security of tenure and title deeds for all rural residents living on communal land," Maimane said.
"But President Zuma is not interested in policies that help the people of South Africa."