With parliamentary processes ready to resume in 2019, the issue of land expropriation in South Africa enters its final Constitutional hurdle.
Land expropriation without compensation – the loaded term which elicits varied fervent responses from the South African public – will, once again, prove its socio-political impetus in 2019. Last year, the land question divided citizens in spectacular fashion, even provoking a response from US President Donald Trump.
Land expropriation without compensation
Two opposite emotional responses lie at the very centre of the land debate; panic and promise. The ruling African National Congress (ANC), supported, in part, by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), has openly announced its support of Constitutional amendments to accelerate land reform as a means of practical socioeconomic redress.
The promise of land – free land – has pandered directly to the populist vote. The disenfranchised majority, being led to believe that land is the master key which will unlock the shackles of poverty, have been swept up in the revolutionary rhetoric.
However, uncertainty regarding its practical applications, and the vulnerability of private property laws which rest at the heart of South Africa’s already unsteady free market economy, have marked land reform with unparalleled socioeconomic uneasiness. Regardless of the public’s apprehension, it seems likely that land expropriation will, despite a fierce pushback from civil rights groups and opposition parties, be introduced into the legislature of South Africa.
Currently, the Joint Constitutional Review Committee’s (CRC) report, advocating for amendments to section 25 of the Constitution, stands firm with parliamentary support. But before land expropriation without compensation becomes written into law, a few more legislative and parliamentary hurdles lay in wake.
Land Expropriation Bill in 2019
Following the National Assembly’s endorsement of the CRC report, amendments to the Expropriation Bill were officially gazetted. The bill defines new protocols relating to land expropriation and outlines the legal basis for Constitutional amendments.
The bill notes that five ‘types’ of land maybe expropriated without compensation – if it’s in the public’s best interest. These include; land that is occupied or used by a labour tenant; land held for purely speculative purposes; land owned by a state-owned entity; land that has been abandoned by its owner, and land that is of a lesser value than any state subsidies from which it may have benefited.
The department of public works is tasked with investigating, defining and regulating the practical mechanisms of the Expropriation Bill. The bill is currently in its public review stage, whereby citizens have a limited time to comment. According to ANC MP Vincent Smith, the Expropriation Bill will only be finalised after the general elections – which are likely to take place at the end of May.
How will land in South Africa be expropriated?
If, or more likely, when, the Expropriation Bill is officially adopted by the National Assembly of South Africa, legal notices will be served on land owners, whose ground has been earmarked for redistribution.
This legal notice may be challenged, by lodging an official objection with the department. Fees related to expropriation, including successful challenges, will be carried by the state.
An expropriation date marks the exact moment of transfer – where the previous owner relinquishes private property rights to the state. However, land owners may be able to continue living on the land until the state takes active possession of the property.
Importantly, and worryingly, owners of mortgaged properties that are expropriated will remain liable for their mortgage.
Ultimately, property disputes between the state and land owners, related to land expropriation without compensation, will be arbitrated by the courts of South Africa.
While the Expropriation Bill allows for accelerated land reform, lengthy legal challenges will surely hamper the state’s efforts.
This news release does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SA-news.
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