16/05/2018 04:49 SAST | Updated 16/05/2018 07:32 SAST

Experts: How Land Expropriation Could Go Very, Very Wrong

Two panels of experts at a Free State agricultural event warned of various dangers to consider if land expropriation without compensation is rolled out.

John Fedele via Getty Images

The destruction of the economy, the ruin of the agricultural sector, and the widening of South Africa's racial divide — these are some of the eventualities a panel of experts warned of, if land-expropriation policies are rolled out without proper planning.

Then there is section 25 of the Constitution, which deals with property rights.

Earlier this year, Parliament passed a motion to review clauses in this section of the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation — a step that some experts and opposition parties caution against.

Two panels, part of a series of dialogues this week at the "Nation In Conversation" debate, argued the pros and cons of land expropriation without compensation on Tuesday. The debate is being held at the National Maize Producers' Organisation [NAMPO] Harvest Day in Free State.

The cases of Zimbabwe and Namibia

Zimbabwean politician Simba Makoni described the process of land acquisitions that took place in his country.

"The first point to make is that we didn't have land reform; we had land acquisition and passing it on... The key challenge to agrarian reform is not just acquiring and passing [on] the land; it's what you do with it when you get it. Government and farmers reacted to the invaders. Nobody planned for it. It is important for us to be proactive. Many people reacted in panic. And when you react in panic, you react negatively — and that became the hallmark of the land-reform exercise in Zimbabwe," Makoni said.

READ: 'SA Must Not Become Another Zim' – NAMPO Debates.

Raphael Karuaihe, head of commodities at the JSE, said politicians in Namibia gave government the first right of refusal in a willing-buyer-willing-seller model.

"In Namibia... at the dawn of democracy, government adopted a willing-buyer, willing-seller approach. It went like that for quite a while... But we realised that a large portion of land still remained in the hands of the previous owners," Karuaihe said.

"If a commercial farm was for sale, government would be the first buyer — unless they give clearance that they don't want to buy it, when it will go to the open market. But the title of that new land remained with government... The unfortunate thing being that those given that portion of land are currently nonfunctional. Land was transferred, [but] what then? Unless we address that next phase, it is a futile exercise."

The uncertainty

AFGRI CEO Chris Venter said government needs to find a way to create policy certainty.

"If you tell any businessman that he can only have a certain limitation on his growth, it doesn't create an appetite for growth... There is a misunderstanding of what the process [of land expropriation without compensation] really is," he said.

READ: ANC And EFF Accused Of Electioneering Over Land Debate.

Russell du Preez, CEO of the RussellStone Group, said the biggest problem with the policy is in dead capital.

"You don't want to make live capital dead capital. You can't live without the title deed. There's no doubt that there have definitely been sins of our fathers, but how do we make it right? Give the title deed to the people who used to own it."

'Constitution should not be amended'

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the Constitution currently does not serve as an impediment to land expropriation without compensation.

"We should be using legislative means to ensure we have restitution and redistribution in South Africa. The Constitution is now being scapegoated as the reason why we hadn't have land restitution in South Africa... We will be demonstrating very clearly how the Constitution is not the impediment," he said.

READ: The Economics Don't Add Up On Land Expropriation.

Politics veteran Roelf Meyer said the Constitution should remain unchanged.

"I'm in favour of retaining section 25 as it is in the Constitution. One of the reasons why we should keep section 25 as it is... it's because it's part of chapter 2 of the constitution which deals with the Bill of Rights. If you start at section 25, you are not going to stop there. Let's keep it as it is. There are ways to deal with the land issue while keeping within section 25," he said.

Just politicking

Political economist Moeletsi Mbeki said he is not worried about the land policy, because it is "propaganda".

"This is not about land. It is about the loss of votes by the ANC. And the ANC and its little son, the EFF, they think they can bring back the voters who are abandoning the ANC by attacking the white population," Mbeki said.

"Its solution is to attack the white population. Malema is leading the ANC's election campaign by attacking the white population."

Congress of the People (COPE) leader Mosiuoa Lekota made an emotional appeal for South Africans to move beyond race.

"I appeal to all of you, we must stop being seized with the mentality of apartheid; the future is nonracial ... We no longer live in those tribal states that were there before the advent of other people. We are a modern national state called South Africa. We are not the people we were at the beginning of the history that made this country. We will not, and we must not, continue to think in these terms. We are South Africans, whether you like it or not," he said.

Those totally against it

AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel said land expropriation without compensation is something that must be "protested at all costs".

Kriel's organisation recently returned from the U.S., where it campaigned to raise awareness around farm murders and land expropriation. He called the visit an "act of patriotism".

"What can we do to stop this from going ahead? Are we going to sit back and hope for the best? We must do something... We know that the economy will be destroyed if this happens; land reform will not be successful... If you don't have a title deed, you are not going to get funding, you are not going to have a successful farm," he said.