Expropriation Bill shelved 'for fear of backlash'

The Expropriation Bill shelved by Parliament’s public works committee two weeks ago is yet another in a long line of controversial legislation stalled by public resistance.

The committee cited insufficient public consultation as the reason for setting aside the Bill, which was intended to accelerate land reform.

Critics of the Bill argue that it was shelved because the ANC became deeply concerned about its economic implications. It would have permitted land expropriation by government decree while denying land owners recourse to the courts to challenge expropriation decisions.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, vocal opponents of the Bill, the proposed legislation allows for the expropriation not only of property, but also of property rights. These include mineral rights and rights to business premises, homes, patents and shares in companies.

‘Government was driving the bill,” said Frans Cronjé, the institute’s deputy chief executive. ‘But it would appear the decision to shelve it was taken by the ANC itself, rather than government.”

Cronjé argued that land redistribution, which has been faulted for poor implementation, will not alleviate poverty if implemented through the Bill’s provisions. Not only is it unconstitutional, he said, but it ‘breeds a certain amount of anxiety” about political stability in the country, ‘deterring foreign investment”.

Cronjé believes that continued uncertainty in the sector could have a negative impact on agricultural production, resulting in higher food prices for the urban poor. ‘The party may have realised that the potential backlash over rising food prices will end up at their door,” he said.

According to Kgotso Khumalo, spokesperson for the ANC parliamentary caucus, the party believed that not enough time was given for deliberations on the Bill, both by the national executive committee and the parliamentary caucus. He said public hearings were ‘far too limited” and the party felt the Bill needed to go back for review.

Sandra Botha, leader of the Democratic Alliance in Parliament, said that ‘lack of consultation” is not a sufficient explanation for the shelving of the Bill, as public hearings were extensive and received an overwhelming response from civil society.

‘[ANC president Jacob] Zuma realised the economic impact the Bill would have once he is elected into power and the impact this would have on service delivery during his [possible] presidency,” she said.

Other controversial Bills have been pushed through Parliament this year despite public opposition. They include the SABC Bill, which gave Parliament the authority to appoint representatives to the board of the national broadcaster and was heavily criticised for compromising the independence of the SABC.

The National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill, as well as the South African Police Service Amendment Bill, both mooted at the ANC’s Polokwane conference, have also attracted heavy flak.

The Medical Schemes Amendment Bill and the National Health Amendment Bill also appear to have been stalled. Intended to control healthcare costs and stabilise medical schemes, they have hit strong resistance from various interest groups, including the South African Medical Association and the trade union movement.

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