Government should not amend the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. Instead, it should accelerate the release of title deeds and land redistribution to salvage land reform.
This is the view of Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin, who has described SA’s pace and quality of land reform since 1994 as “pathetic”.
“There has been weak policy, corruption within the state, and lack of will when it comes to land reform,” Cronin said at the South African Property Owners Association annual convention on Wednesday.
SA is weighing up the merits of amending Section 25 of the Constitution – also known as the property clause – to expropriate land without compensation.
After MPs voted in favour of a motion to begin a process to amend Section 25, the matter was sent to the Constitutional Review Committee, which will review whether it is necessary to amend the Constitution.
Public submissions to the committee closed on June 15. The committee has to report back to Parliament on its findings by September 28.
“The property clause is not an obstacle for effective land reform and land restitution,” said Cronin. “It should not be amended as it already provides effective mechanisms to achieve land reform.”
Cronin’s views contradict those held by some ANC and EFF members, who have called for the state to go to extreme lengths in expropriating land without compensation.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has thrown his weight behind amending Section 25, saying expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security and doesn’t harm the economy.
“At face value, this is a contradiction,” said Cronin. “On the one hand, we are rallying the masses to expropriate land but we don’t want to threaten food security.”
Instead of amending the Constitution, the focus should be on increasing security of tenure; in other words, the government must fast-track the release of title deeds, he said. “Millions of South Africans have insecure tenure. Something like 60% of South Africans do not have title deeds.”
Although government has provided 3.8 million housing opportunities since 1994 through the Reconstruction and Development Programme – known as the RDP programme but now referred to as Breaking New Ground – many people don’t have title deeds for the homes they live in. The human settlements department had set a three-year target of fast-tracking the release of more than 800 000 title deeds by 2019.
Cronin said another way to avert changing Section 25 of the Constitution would be focusing on the process of land redistribution. The idea is that government would expropriate unutilised land or unproductive land (land not marked for any speculative development plans) for the purposes of land redistribution.
“The expropriated land would be used to develop appropriate housing settlements and for the transformation of SA’s spatial planning,” he said.
The expropriated land does not necessarily have to be owned by the private sector. It could already be owned by the state, which is a substantial landowner.
The problem is that the state doesn’t know how much land it owns, and previous land audit figures are not reliable. “We don’t trust any data on land ownership,” said Cronin. “We need to have a proper understanding of who owns what.”
He added that the state owns 30 000 land parcels on its immovable-assets register, and this could be earmarked for redistribution.
Another big problem is that government’s process for settling land claims – for families or people dispossessed of land due to the 1913 Natives Land Act – under the restitution programme since 1994 has been “hugely challenging and problematic.”
Land claims takes forever to settle, he said. “According to the high-level panel, at the current pace of the processing land claims, it will take another 33 or 43 years to settle old claims.”