A draft law that would allow South Africa’s government to expropriate property without having to pay compensation at market prices would undermine the rights of owners and mortgage holders and deter investment, the nation’s banking industry said.
The Expropriation Bill now before Parliament would give the state the right to seize property in the public interest and pay the owner “just and equitable” compensation. President Jacob Zuma’s administration says the measure is necessary to address racial disparities in property ownership dating from white minority rule, which ended in 1994.
The law would force banks to raise mortgage costs or reduce or withhold loans, the Banking Association of South Africa said in a written submission to Parliament’s Public Works Committee, which held hearings on the draft bill on Tuesday. While expropriation is sometimes necessary, the procedures must adhere to international norms and the constitution, it said.
“We are concerned that promulgation of the bill could lead to the further dilution of property rights,” it said. “This has the potential to introduce unintended economic consequences and introduce systemic risk into the sector.”
The association’s 32 members include Standard Bank, Nedbank Group, FirstRand’s First National Bank unit and Barclays’s South African unit. They collectively hold mortgages worth R2.3 trillion, including R70 billion in the agricultural industry.
“We submit that such a bill must not result in discouraging local and international investment,” the association said. “The bill should restrict the definition of property to matters of land reform and equitable access to the country’s natural resources.”
The government has been wary to expropriate land because of the uncertainty surrounding the current law, Jeremy Cronin, the deputy minister of Public Works, told lawmakers.
“There is a temerity within government to use the old apartheid-era act and this has delayed infrastructure roll out and allowed private land owners to take advantage of the situation,” he said.
Eskom Holdings is seeking authority for its chairman and chief executive officer to take over land identified for power lines, according to Amos Mboweni, the utility’s executive for land acquisitions.