The decision this week by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) that section 25 of the Constitution be amended to enable the expropriation of land without compensation in the public interest is a political victory for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
But there is still a long way to go before the amendments are effected. The EFF would also need to work with the ANC to get the two-thirds majority required to amend the Bill of Rights.
The ANC holds 249 seats of the 400 in the National Assembly and the EFF has 25. This would be enough to secure an amendment to the Bill of Rights — but not by a big margin. The Democratic Alliance, which has 89 seats, together with Cope (three seats), Freedom Front Plus (four) and the African Christian Democratic Party (three), are among those opposed to the motion.
It is likely that the ANC would vote with the EFF, but history will judge the ruling party harshly for being a follower rather than a leader on the land issue, considered a core pillar of the struggle.
History will ask how a majority ruling party allowed itself to be led by a minnow. The ANC, which has for the past 24 years skirted around and bungled land reform and restitution, now finds itself having to play bridesmaid to the Red Berets.
The ANC is in a very tight corner. If the glorious liberation movement doesn’t vote in support of the amendments it risks losing the respect, and probably the vote, of many of the landless. If it does, it risks the wrath of investors and unsettling the economy.
The ANC, as the majority party, holds the key. It’s in the ruling party’s best interests to follow through on amending the Constitution, especially as elections are only about six months away.
But the matter still has to go through various phases before it becomes law. These include the introduction of a Bill that must be gazetted and submitted for public comment as well as scrutiny by the nine provincial legislatures. There is also a very good chance the move will be challenged in court.
An amendment to the Bill of Rights should probably not be rushed, but the ANC and EFF may be tempted to try to drive it through before the election while they have the numbers in Parliament to do so — unless they are confident that they will keep or increase their seats.
There also remains the question of whether a constitutional amendment will translate into anything meaningful for the land-hungry masses.
Since the Constitution came into effect, the ANC has never seriously tested the outer limits of section 25 — especially since there is a strong argument that the Constitution, as it stands, allows for expropriation without compensation in certain circumstances.
Instead, a lack of political will and administrative bungling has hampered the redistribution of land already in government hands. Assuming that the ANC will still emerge victorious in next year’s general election, it does not necessarily mean a change in legislation will ignite a new spirit that will send the government into overdrive to settle the land issue.
Balancing the desires of the landless, economically starved and unemployed black masses and the fears of white landowners and investors have pushed the ANC to a crossroads.
The governing party appears not to know whether to be a liberation movement whose primary aim is to free its previously oppressed people from poverty and landlessness or be a government whose goal is to attract investment and maintain economic stability. – Mukurukuru Media