28/02/2018 04:38 SAST | Updated 28/02/2018 04:47 SAST

Sound And Fury: Malema Leads Fiery Land-Battle Debate

The EFF leader's impassioned rhetoric has secured a constitutional review committee review of section 25 with an eye to expropriation without compensation.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema.

Parliament's constitutional review committee has been charged with reviewing section 25 of the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation and is expected to report back to the National Assembly by the end of August.

This comes after a fiery debate in Parliament on Tuesday, in which parties argued for and against amending the Constitution "to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation".

The EFF brought a draft resolution to Parliament and argued for an ad-hoc committee to be set up by the National Assembly to expedite the process. The resolution, once amended by the ANC, was passed.

The crux of the debate was the current land-reform programme, which the EFF said has been "fraught with difficulties" since its inception in 1994. The minority opposition party also argued that section 25 of the constitution makes it impossible for "those dispossessed of their land" to get justice.

The ANC – which resolved at its national conference last year to begin the process of land expropriation without compensation – sided with the EFF in Parliament, but proposed various amendments to the motion.

Instead of an ad-hoc committee, the governing party tasked the constitutional review committee to take up the task, and set a deadline for August 30 instead of the EFF's April deadline. Various parties, including the EFF, supported the amendments.

Leading the debate, the EFF's Julius Malema said in the past a project of disempowering Africans of the ability to call South Africa their land was initiated.

"The so-called township is not a settlement of human beings, it is a prison camp... The time for reconciliation is over; now is the time for justice... We do not seek revenge, though [white South Africans] caused so much evil in the land. We do not wish for their suffering ... All our people ever wanted is the land in which their dignity is rooted and founded," he said.

The ANC wholly supported the motion – although their speakers, newly appointed Minister of Water and Sanitation Gugile Nkwinti, deputy minister of rural development Mcebisi Skwatsha, and ANC land-reform whip Pumzile Mnguni – reiterated the party's intention to expropriate land without "damaging agricultural productivity, food security and the economy".

It did, however, agree with the EFF's contention that the land was not stolen, but conquered.

"The ANC unequivocally supports the principle of land expropriation without compensation as moved by the EFF. We may disagree on the modalities, but on the principles we agree ... There is a narrative that is false: that land was stolen from the indigenous people of this country ... it was taken by brutal wars," Nkwinti said, to the applause of EFF members.

The DA, African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and Congress of the People (COPE) were among the parties that rejected the motion.

The DA's Thandeka Mbabama said land expropriation without compensation cannot be part of the solution, to heckling by other parties.

"Expropriation without compensation fundamentally undermines property ownership in South Africa," she insisted "[It] is a way to divert attention away from the failures of the ANC."

FF+ leader Pieter Groenewald warned that if Parliament passed the motion, "there are going to be unforeseen circumstances not in the interests of South Africa".

In a HuffPost blog, associate professor at North-West University Elmien du Plessis argues that in the absence of a clear government acquisition strategy that utilises expropriation for acquiring land – fully exploring the possibilities of the "just and equitable" requirements of the Constitution, which do not, necessarily, equate to the "willing buyer, willing seller" principle employed by the ANC so far – one cannot with certainty say that it is a Constitutional restraint on current expropriation practice that stands in the way of land reform.

"To say that expropriation is a highly technical and lengthy process is perhaps an understatement. And to think that the provision of not paying compensation would shorten the process is equally naïve. Would an amendment to the Constitution's section 25 therefore provide a panacea for our land reform woes? I doubt it," she writes.

"Looking at the findings of the high-level report, the problem with land reform lies elsewhere."

The high-level report panel found that "government should use its expropriation powers more boldly, in ways that test the meaning of the compensation provisions in Section 25(3)".

Various agricultural bodies have weighed in on both sides of the expropriation-without-compensation debate. AgriSA, for example, told HuffPost earlier this week that government needs to provide more clarity on how they plan to carry out the process. The African Farmers' Association, on the other hand, called for the process to be expedited.

The Institute of Race Relations was one of several groups warning against the move.