Welkom land hearings: ‘The land belongs to the people’

“There is nobody who owns land. Not even the king,” Tsietsi Motsoane’s declaration booms over the crowd in Ferdie Meyer Hall.

The 62-year-old — whose giant hands shake as he speaks — is one of the first to address the parliamentary committee during the public hearings into land expropriation without compensation in Welkom on Tuesday. He has lived in the ‘city of traffic circles’ for 30 years.

The hearing forms part of national hearings on a review of section 25 of the Constitution — which deals with property rights — to make it possible for the state to expropriate land “in the public interest without compensation”.

Earlier this year, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces resolved to mandate the joint constitutional review committee to review this section of the Constitution. More than 700 000 written submissions forms from the public were made.

“The land belongs to the people. Not any individual owns the land. People own property, not land,” Motsoane continues.

The packed hall applauds in agreement.

Despite its high ceilings — which are adorned with nine old-fashioned chandeliers — the hall overflows with sound.

The faint echoes of struggle songs creep into the drafty room from outside as three representatives from the Khoisan royal house sit steely-eyed, facing the committee.

The crowd is overwhelmingly on the side of amending Section 25, so much so that when a speaker opposes it, the room clamours to quiet them.

Representatives from AfriForum and AgriSA are among those who disagreed with the general sentiment in the room. They customarily raise the issue of “Eskom” as an example of the state’s failure.

“You cannot borrow money without the collateral,” says Free State farmer Johan Van Der Walt enigmatically.

“People here will speak things that you like and things that you don’t like,” the hearing’s chair advises a jeering crowd.

Many who address the hall first salute the Economic Freedom Fighters — represented in Welkom by the party’s chief whip Floyd Shivambu — for advancing the land issue in Parliament.

At one point, a large cohort of burly white men stand up, pushing their plastic chairs out of the way begin to stream out.

One, who asked not to be named, says he has heard enough. “This is taking too long.”

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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