/ 12 March 2017

​ANC kicks off land debate amid divided views from leaders

Almost 80% of the country is in private hands
Almost 80% of the country is in private hands

As the ANC marks the start of a 3-month process of deliberation ahead of its policy conference in June, party leaders are divided on whether or not to explore land expropriation without compensation.

On Sunday the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) publically launched a series of discussion documents that will be used to propose areas for policy review at its elective conference in December.

Under pressure to reverse the declining electoral support it experienced during the 2016 local government elections, the party started the year with calls for radical economic transformation, with some including president Jacob Zuma going the extent of calling for expropriation without compensation. But other ANC leaders including ANC head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana, science and technology minister Naledi Pandor and ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu have expressed reservations on these calls for expropriation without compensation.

“The current [ANC] policy does not talk about expropriation without compensation,” Godongwana told the Mail & Guardian this week.

“What was said in Mangaung in 2012 is that property or land taken illegally should be subject to expropriation without compensation with due regard to section 25 of the Constitution,” he added.

The discussion document on economic transformation calls for land reform to be accelerated through the adoption of updated expropriation legislation. It also calls on government to “take heed of the Constitutional Court’s finding that agreement on the quantum of fair compensation is not a pre-condition for land redistribution to take place”. The document is however less emphatic on the issue of expropriation without compensation as the president of the party has been.

Last month the ANC caucus, under Mthembu’s leadership rejected a motion brought before Parliament by the Economic Freedom Fighters, which offered to give the ruling party the support it needed to amend the constitution and allow expropriation without compensation. The rejection of the motion opened the ANC up to external scorn from some opposition parties and also unleashed a flurry of differing views within the party on whether or not expropriation without compensation was ANC policy.

NEC member and deputy minister of public service and administration Ayanda Dlodlo said based on the ANC’s provision for non-compensation of unlawfully obtained land – expropriation without compensation was party policy as unlawful occupations had taken place over centuries.

“If you’re going to bring in your horses and your guns on communities that are helpless and say ‘we’ve won the battle therefore we’re taking the land and livestock’… I don’t call that lawful. People could have been on land for centuries and centuries, but how did they acquire that land? The part that we need to unpack if we’re going to be talking about the ANC resolution on land is that part that says ‘unlawfully’,” Dlodlo said.

The decision by MP’s not to vote with the EFF has created finger pointing among top party leaders who are debating whether the right decision was made in Parliament.

During the launch of the policy discussion documents on Sunday, Pandor urged against talk of ammending section 25 of the Constitution. According to Pandor, changing this clause alone wouldn’t automatically allow expropriation without compensation, as other clauses, which link to it, would also need to be amended.

“I think we need to move away from the manner in which we are debating this important matter of land access and transformation, it’s a very complex matter,” she said. “In fact if you look at the full context and read all subsets of section 25 you’ll find that it’s quite an enabling clause in the Constitution.”

But youth league leader Collen Maine this week said the young lions believed the wrong decision had been made in parliament.

“Even if the EFF is our political enemy, on the land issue we are saying the same thing and should have voted with them. That day will be judged very harshly, because we made the wrong decision”.

Even the president indicated disagreement with the decision taken by the ANC caucus not to vote for a constitutional change. During the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders last week Zuma called on “black parties” to unite on the land issue. “Once the [land] audit is completed, one law should be written so that we can handle land restitution without compensation. The necessary constitutional changes will be made. The black parties should unite on this issue,” he said.

But Mthembu believed the reason for the slow pace of land reform was due to the ANC’s own inadequacies and not due to any barrier presented by section 25 of the constitution.

“Section 25 of our constitution is more of an abler for land reform than a barrier. We failed to take advantage of its provisions, full stop,” he said.

The land debate was central to the ANC’s formation in 1912 when the party committed itself not only to liberating oppressed majority, but also to returning dispossessed groups to their land. Criticism has been leveled against the party by groups such as the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa), which believes the ANC has forgotten its mandate of returning land to its rightful owners since attaining political power in 1994. Questions have been raised about whether the party effectively used existing frameworks to effect land reform.

Expressing his personal view, Godongwana said he was still uncertain why there was a push for expropriation without compensation, when the constitution in its current form presented no barrier to speeding up land reform. “Is the problem that we can’t give effect to land reform because land is too expensive? Then we need evidence in that regard,” he said. He also said the ANC had been too slow in establishing legislative frameworks to speed up land reform.

Maine said he believed the slow pace of change had been caused by a lack of political appetite and said the ANC momentarily lost sight of the equal importance of returning land to its rightful owners.

“After taking power in 1994 we became too comfortable because we were then driven around with German cars and blue lights. In fact some of us forgot why we engaged in the struggle because we were comfortable. This issue of the land… if we don’t handle it well history will judge us very harshly,” he said.