/ 25 June 2018

Land hearings: Beefed up security, an appeal for tolerance

While the ANC and the EFF were responsible for backing a motion to change the Constitution
While the ANC and the EFF were responsible for backing a motion to change the Constitution

It begins this week.

Parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee will travel to each province in South Africa to hear submissions on whether the Constitution should be amended to implement land expropriation without compensation.

The much anticipated hearings have members of Parliament bracing themselves for the relentless work ahead.

It will be a gruelling tour of long days and hundreds of thousands of people who wait anxiously — or with relish — to have their say. On Tuesday, the committee will be in the Northern Cape town of Springbok. It will be the first public hearing on the proposed changes to Section 25 of the Constitution, which protects property rights.

Vincent Smith, chairperson of the committee, has said that speakers who make submission will have 5 to 10 minutes to answer this question only: “Must the Constitution change [to allow land expropriation without compensation]; if so, how; if you don’t think the Constitution must change, why don’t you think so?”.

The committee has been split into two groups. One will attend hearings inland, while the other will cover coastal areas. In each province, there will be hearings in at least three different venues. Between 11am and 4pm, they will sit for each day of the hearings, and listen to submissions. Smith has warned, however, that “we will sit till midnight if we have to” if the 4pm cut-off is too early.

Already, there is trepidation about the process.

MPs have encouraged all South Africans to attend the hearings and to feel welcome to speak their views. Translation services have been made available to make the process more inclusive. But MPs have called for tolerance in the proceedings, anticipating that disagreements over land could lead to tempers flaring.

“We must also appeal to South Africans generally that of course it is an emotive subject in these hearings you’re going to get divergent views and I think we need to be tolerant of each other’s views,” Smith said in a statement at the weekend.

Smith also said that “security measures” had been taken at all the venues, acknowledging that MPs are worried over people’s safety during the hearings.

“We’ve also tried to make sure that there should be sufficient security measures at these venues so that people should not feel threatened one way or the other that their safety would be at risk. We can never guarantee it, but we’ve done everything in our power to make sure that there’s maximum security in all the venues we are attending,” he said.

Afrikaner rights group AfriForum has been at the centre of controversy since Parliament first announced it was setting up a committee to review the Constitution. The group raised eyebrows when it announced it would “warn” international investors about the “conflict” that threatens South Africa.

READ MORE: AfriForum considers legal action against process to amend Constitution

“Conflict is not in anyone’s interest and therefore, AfriForum will do everything possible to mobilise international pressure to thusly prevent the violation of property rights,” AfriForum chief executive Kallie Kriel said in a statement.

In Parliament, some MPs have expressed their scepticism over AfriForum’s role in the land process. Smith has confirmed that more than 700 000 written submissions have been received by Parliament on land expropriation, but there were questions over the legitimacy of the submissions. The Economic Freedom Fighters suggested that AfriForum was responsible for some mischief.

“There’s a high possibility that there are 500 000 submissions that came from a very small number of people,” EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu said during a committee meeting last week.

But there have been many views on the issue. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a human rights lawyer and author, said that while land reform is necessary it may be achieved without changing the Constitution.

“On paper, land reform is about reversing the legacies of apartheid and colonialism, such as poverty, food insecurity and the dominance of men in society. For land reform to counter these, the prime beneficiaries ought to be women and the poor,” Ngcukaitobi has written.

“Section 25(8) of the Constitution states that implementing this section may not impede the state from taking legislative and other measures to achieve land, water and related reform, to redress the results of past racial discrimination. Put differently, if the demands of compensation by private landowners impede land reform, they must yield to the greater public good of land redistribution,” Ngcukaitobi continues.

READ MORE: ANC to use current Constitution to test land expropriation without compensation

The mammoth task for Parliament is that it has just 30 days to capture all 700 000 submissions and compile them in a report. Smith said that only submissions which can clearly be attributed to an identifiable author would make the cut. But Parliament has had to employ a service provider to manage the submissions.

During the hearings, no written submission will be allowed, but some of the authors of those submissions may be invited to speak. No decisions will be taken during the hearings, but MPs have said they will make a decision at the end of August or beginning of September.

While the ANC and the EFF were responsible for backing a motion to change the Constitution, Smith said that every MP in the committee had committed to putting aside their party banners. “MPs have made that undertaking that we would not use our party political hats and that we would be there as facilitator,” he said.

*Look out for the M&G’s reporting from the various hearings across the country