Presidential Land Reform Panel Recommends Seizures Without Pay In Certain Circumstances

The final report of government’s advisory panel on land reform has recommended changing the constitution to allow the government to seize land without compensation, but only in certain circumstances.

The report, by a presidential panel of experts, released Sunday by the Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, poured water on wholesale land seizures without payment – as feared by some farmers, investors and foreign governments.

It recommended that expropriation without compensation be applied under specific circumstances, including abandoned land; land held purely for speculative purposes; land already occupied and used by labour tenants and former labour tenants; and inner city buildings with absentee landlords.

Parliament is due to start debates on proposed changes to the land expropriation bill in October.

“It is important that the Bill must specify much more clearly the meaning of instances that would amount to “nil” compensation,” the panel, appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, said in their report.

The ANC has repeatedly pledged to accelerate land transfers to the black majority denied ownership rights under apartheid’s segregation laws, but progress has been slow.

Ramaphosa appointed the panel of agricultural economists and practitioners last year to advise the government after the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) started to dominate the land reform debate and tabled a constitutional amendment to allow the government to seize land without compensation.

“The clarification that we are seeking in the mandate is to be more specific in terms of addressing this (expropriation without compensation), and we have gone further to highlight and assist with wording for when such (expropriation) can occur,” Vuyokazi Mahlati, chairwoman of the panel, told a press briefing where the report was released to the public.

Land minister Thoko Didiza said the report would inform government policy on land reform; advising government on circumstances in which the policy on expropriation without compensation will be implemented; what procedures to follow, including enforcement; as well as the rights of any affected persons.

The expert panel was appointed in September 2018 to support and advise the work of the inter-ministerial committee on land reform on a broad range of policy matters including land restitution, redistribution, tenure security and agricultural support.

“Speedy delivery of land for human settlement provides our people with houses as assets but also will ensure integrated spatial planning where we can work towards de-racialising our communities,” Didiza said.

Mahlathi, said only a portion of land could be acquired without compensation.

“We come up with a number of areas, starting with vacant land, under-utilised land, un-utilised land or looking at land that was bought through equity schemes that have failed,” Mahlathi said.

It also recommended the Land Claims Court be reformed to become the main expropriation body, and be given additional powers to adjudicate on all land related matters, including the calculations of the value of land targeted for appropriation and what rights affected land owners were entitled to.

Didiza said some of the recommendations cut across numerous departments and would be addressed accordingly, including taxation and human settlements for relevant government departments.

The panel reported that the expropriation of land without compensation may only apply in limited instances.

It said panel members had different views on a number of issues being discussed – such as the implementation of the expropriation of land without compensation policy.

The panel also urged government to develop an urban land policy.

On Thursday, the National Assembly agreed to reestablish a multiparty ad hoc committee to initiate and introduce legislation amending section 25 of the Constitution dealing with expropriation without compensation.

The new parliamentary committee has until March 2020 to report back on the proposed changes to land reform laws.

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