Expropriation without Compensation: Emerging Perspectives

The drive to implement land expropriation without compensation risks undermining the considerable benefits of global goodwill, says the writer. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

With the Constitutional Review Committee hearings on the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution now well underway, it is a good time to reflect on the emerging perspectives that have coloured the Expropriation without Compensation debate, particularly since the passing of this motion by Parliament in March.

The commencement of the Constitutional Review Committee Public Hearings a day after the 62nd commemoration of the Freedom Charter is quite symbolic. One of the most important questions the Freedom Charter sought to answer was that of land ownership and specifically who should have access to land in South Africa. A similar question around who the most immediate beneficiaries of land expropriation without compensation should be is currently playing out as this process unfolds.

The three thousand delegates who gathered at the Congress of the People in Kliptown on June 26 1955 eloquently and sufficiently answered this question. They declared that: “The Land Shall Be Shared Among Those Who work It.”  They went further and said that “all the land shall be re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and hunger…”

Central to this perspective was the fight against hunger and food insecurity, two issues that are as relevant today as they were 62 years ago. To draw parallels to the current process, there has been a strong sense that whatever materialises out of the expropriation without compensation debate, it should not have an impact on food security, or the country’s ability to meet the food demands of its people. To follow the logic of the Freedom Charter, the first beneficiaries of land without expropriation should first be those Black Producers who are already working the land in support of government’s Fetsa Tlala or iLima, including subsistence farmers in the communal areas or former homelands.

Furthermore, the delegates to the Freedom Charter went on to call for post-settlement state support to those working the land in the form of implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers. Again, this call could not be more relevant given our current context, with a majority of new entrants to the agricultural sector already seeking this kind of technical support to make their ventures viable.  In short, the challenge of under-utilized agricultural land and a lack of post settlement support should be something of the past. People in communal areas should be assisted with the necessary tools and instruments to till the land as part of a re-reengineered land and agricultural reform process.

The State can do all the above once the system of agricultural development finance has been fundamentally overhauled and reconfigured. New entrants, especially black people, women and the youth should have access to more blended sources of financing including grants and loan finance to better enable them to effectively work the land. The Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries’ recent announcement of the creation of a grant-supported blended fund for Black Producers is a step in the right direction towards a fundamentally re-engineered approach to agricultural development finance.  

Deeper questions around the class character of the current expropriation debate have also begun to emerge.  The Kgalema Motlante High Level Panel Report has attempted to unpack this issue, suggesting that South Africa’s land reform programme has, over the years, lost its bias towards the poor. The case of public servants and political elites benefiting from the current land reform programme continues to be raised as an example of the skewed nature of the programme.

The sporadic land invasions that we have witnessed in some parts of Gauteng and the Western Cape are perhaps indicators of the class character of the current land debate in South Africa.  In these instances, we have seen an uprising of urban and backyard shack dwellers severely constrained by the economy which renders them   unable to pay exorbitant rentals charged to them by property owners in the township.  

Some of these invaders have lamented the small house sizes that were given to them by government under the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). They claim that their houses are now too small, as their families have grown over years. Clearly, population growth is out-pacing the delivery of services, which can be seen as a general failure of planning. In addition, the issue of in-migration is another factor contributing to the service delivery crisis. This frustration, as expressed by land invaders, puts on trial the post-apartheid development planning in its entirety. Undoubtedly, it was and still is lopsided.

On the question of class, it would then be pertinent to ask who the actual beneficiaries of land reform have been and how our current discussions on expropriation without compensation will work to make a difference in the lives of those crying out for land.

Issues of class go hand-in-hand with the competing demands for land, and in this debate, at both the parliamentary review process and broader policy level, we should have the foresight and development impetus to comprehend and articulate the competing demands for land that ordinary people continue to fight for. Much of this work and really the work of land reform in general, should be to completely dismantle the lingering effects of apartheid spatial planning by addressing the development challenges we face as a society.

Until now, we have not really heard a comprehensive response from the rural masses on the land expropriation without compensation debate. With the Constitutional Review Roadshow currently underway, hopefully this view becomes much clearer. This is entirely necessary to debunk the myth that the rural masses have no appetite for agricultural land. An important part of this process is to understand the potential that lies in rural communities while we also seek to understand their hopes and aspirations coming out of the land.

The biggest challenge is that people in communal areas do not have much say on land as tribal and traditional authorities still have greater influence on who occupies and uses the land. Some are in need of residential land and some are in need of agricultural land. The question remains: will our public policy makers be ready when the competing demands for land of ordinary South Africans collide or converge in the not too distant future?

Another important perspective is a gender one. Looking at the post-1994 land reform trajectory in South Africa, some commentators argue that it has been largely unable to fundamentally destroy the vestiges of patriarchy, still carrying with it elements of  misogyny. Unfortunately, the untransformed tribal authorities and structures in the countryside give credence to this perspective. Indeed, in some areas of our country, women’s rights are still trampled upon and disrespected.

A holistic development approach that takes into account all the variables that give shape, form and content to this multifaceted challenge of land reform is a prerequisite.  Such an approach should, amongst other things, have a bias towards the landless rural poor who have always been at the receiving end of all government policies. The new land reform trajectory that will be underpinned by the expropriation without compensation principle as one available instrument, should, first and foremost, benefit this group instead of a political and bureaucratic elite as has been the case over the past twenty-four years.

Zamikhaya Maseti is a Senior Specialist for Public and Sector Policy at Land Bank. He writes in his personal capacity and the views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent policy positions of Land Bank.