POLITICS
20/02/2018 07:03 SAST | Updated 20/02/2018 07:16 SAST

Land Expropriation: Ramaphosa Wants A Codesa-Like Summit

President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised expropriation without compensation... but with caveats. And therein lies the rub.

President Cyril Ramaphosa during the debate on his state of the nation address at the National Assembly on Monday at Parliament.
Jeffrey Abrahams
President Cyril Ramaphosa during the debate on his state of the nation address at the National Assembly on Monday at Parliament.

President Cyril Ramaphosa wants to convene a Codesa-like land summit to address the issue of land redistribution, a hot-button topic on which he has been challenged by Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema.

The land question is shaping up to become a major policy issue of Ramaphosa's early tenure, with the EFF challenging him to implement radical ANC policy amid fears about its effect on economic stability. But advisers close to the president say Ramaphosa plans to convene the summit to address the "legitimate and emotive" issue of land distribution and that any solution to the problem will be sought via "consensus and within the law".

Those close to Ramaphosa say he is determined to manage the land issue in the same way he approached constitutional negotiations and the recent ANC and government leadership transition – within the bounds of law and by seeking consensus.

Malema issued a stern challenge to the newly minted president on Monday during the debate on the state of the nation address, saying the head of state can't "bluff" people by attaching conditions to the expropriation of land without compensation. Those close to Ramaphosa say he is determined to manage the land issue in the same way he approached constitutional negotiations and the recent ANC and government leadership transition – within the bounds of law and by seeking consensus.

Jeffrey Abrahams
Julius Malema EFF leader during the debate on President Cyril Ramaphosa's state of the nation address at the National Assembly on February 19, 2018 in Cape Town.

The ANC took a decision in December to legislate and implement a policy of expropriation of land without compensation. In his maiden speech as ANC leader, Ramaphosa reiterated this decision, but added caveats: it must not jeopardise food security or destabilise the agricultural or any other sector. In his state of the nation address, he said the implementation of the decision must improve food security and production.

Advisers close to the president say Ramaphosa has a clear stategy, framework and timeline in mind and that the issue won't be left to drift. He plans to convene a Codesa-like land summit where all actors in the agricultural sector will be able to make inputs.

Malema rejected these caveats. "Investors were worried when you made the announcement of expropriation without compensation. You cannot make promises, bluff and then say 'don't worry, I'm just silencing my opponents inside the ANC'. There can be no conditions attached to land... there [were] no conditions attached when they took our land and killed us," Malema said.

Advisers close to the president say Ramaphosa has a clear stategy, framework and timeline in mind and that the issue won't be left to drift. He plans to convene a Codesa-like land summit where all actors in the agricultural sector will be able to make inputs. Ramaphosa agrees with ANC policy that land that was unjustly taken from black South Africans – even before the promulgation of the 1913 Natives' Land Act – should be returned to their owners.

However, he also believes that this should happen according to the Constitution and supporting legislation and be based on an accurate and objective land audit.

There is still major uncertainty about who owns what land. According to a recent study by farmers' union Agri SA almost 27% of agricultural land is owned by black South Africans.

"Land is of course much more than the soil. When we talk about agricultural land, it also includes the debt on that land, equipment, capital, intellectual capital, buildings... so it's not just about taking land. We are in consultation with large farmers, mega farmers, and all of them tell us they are willing to help," an adviser with knowledge of the matter told HuffPost.

There is still major uncertainty about who owns what land. According to a recent study by farmers' union AgriSA, almost 27% of agricultural land is owned by black South Africans. More than 50% of agricultural land in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal is owned by black people, while twice as much land has been transferred into black hands via commercial transactions than through government programmes.

The Constitution states property may be expropriated subject to "just and equitable" compensation while the Expropriation Act of 1975 remains on the statute books.

Another study, commissioned by the department of rural development and land reform, but not yet officially published, found that just 1.2 percent of rural land and 7 percent of registered property in cities and towns belong to black South Africans. The department could determine the race of only 33 percent of property in the country.

The Constitution states property may be expropriated subject to "just and equitable" compensation while the Expropriation Act of 1975 remains on the statute books. A new bill has been in the works for years but was sent back to Parliament in February last year by former president Jacob Zuma. It has since not been revived.

During Monday's debate, various other speakers referred to the land issue, with Mcebisi Skwatsha, the deputy minister of land reform, saying land dispossession remains emotive and pressing. He told the National Assembly the ANC hears the cries of the landless. Naledi Pandor, minister of science and technology, said in her speech that Malema and the EFF "can rest assured" the ANC government is determined to implement the party's resolution taken at Nasrec.

Mosioua Lekota, Cope leader, asked Ramaphosa who land will be taken from and how government will decide on it. He asked the president – to loud jeers – who he considered to be "our people" and how government would determine whether land should be taken from descendants of French Huguenots, German refugees or indentured Indian labourers. He was sharply criticised by Pandor, who questioned how Lekota could ask these question given historical land deprivation.