Beyond SONA: the status quo of the Land Expropriation Bill | General

The scanning over by President Ramaphosa in his SONA, of the land expropriation issue was finally addressed this week when he responded to reactions to his speech, by members of the National Assembly.

Let’s recap: Ramaphosa has announced that the portfolios of agriculture, rural development, and land reform are now merged, and will fall under the command of newly-appointed Minister, Thoko Didiza. This merger, said Ramaphosa is to ensure there is an “institutional basis for a comprehensive approach to the economic development of our rural areas,” 

and “will unlock the potential of the sector by removing constraints in accessing land, finance, markets and water, and improving safety in our rural areas.

In parliament last week, Ramaphosa again stressed that the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture report will reveal more, but we still have no idea when that will be, other than ‘soon’. What he is assuring us of however, is that it will be comprehensive, far-reaching and transformative.

According to media reports, Minister Didiza has been studying the report that encompasses policy issues like restitution, redistribution, tenure security and agricultural support. She says that “she is happy with it because it will enable us to move on to certain areas.”

Going forward parliament now has two important tasks: that being to finalise the constitutional amendments to Section 25 to clearly indicate how to expropriate land without compensation; and to pass the Expropriation Bill, which will deal with the modalities and circumstances in which expropriation will take place.

"Expropriation is an important land acquisition strategy,” Ramaphosa stressed. “It is important because it enables us to conduct land reform in a pro-active and planned manner. This frees us from a wait-and-see approach dependent on market sales. Expropriation without compensation, in defined circumstances, allows us to do so at a cost that is reasonable for the South Africa people.

"But we must not lose sight that it is but one instrument in a much broader toolbox to achieve agrarian reform and spatial justice,” he continued. "Our land reform agenda also includes recognising individual, family and community rights to land in accordance with lived experience."

It’s difficult to read between the lines. Emotions are rampant, be those of the opposition parties, or those of the man-in-the street. What is certain is that it’s going to happen, and although no land is outside of the scope of redistribution, striking the right balance of where, what, when, and how, is probably the most challenging issue the ANC government has ever faced in its democratic rule.