Expropriation: farmers flock to object

2008-06-11 00:00

KwaZulu-Natal farmers flexed their civic muscle yesterday, leaving their farms in the early hours to travel to Hluhluwe to object to the controversial Expropriation Bill.

Critics contend that the bill, being introduced just before the 2009 elections, is a quick fix for the current slow progress with land reform.

These suspicions exist because of the manner in which the bill has been fast-tracked through Parliament, with public hearings being held in remote places.

Only three hearings were arranged in KZN — at Hluhluwe, Pongola and Newcastle, forcing farmers from the south and the midlands to travel north to lodge their objections.

They went in cars, buses and small planes, filling the town’s country club hall to capacity.

President of the KZN Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) Robin Barnsley told representatives of the national Department of Public Works, who introduced the bill, that the public participation process is flawed and “seemingly stage-managed to make it difficult for us to get to you”.

The farmers were also angry that none of the politicians from national government championing the bill was present. They rejected the explanation that members of the Public Works portfolio committee were on their way but were called back to Parliament because of a sitting on the presidential vote.

Barnsley said he was there to represent 76 796 KZN objectors. He said they accept in principle that expropriation is necessary, but are worried about the bill for several reasons:

• its economic impact;

• the fact that it is loosely worded and subject to wide interpretation on issues of compensation and how a person on whose behalf land can be expropriated is defined ;

• it affects individuals’ right of access to the courts.

Other objections include the fact that different levels of government, including municipalities, have powers to expropriate, and that the term “property” in the bill refers to both fixed and moveable assets.

A traditional leadership representative asked about the expropriation of Ngonyama Trust Land and was not happy with the explanation that expropriation here would be guided by the Communal Land Rights Act, under which traditional leaders would first be consulted. He felt that the public participation process does not leave time to go into the complexities of the bill over issues such as trust land.

The department’s legal team and its deputy director-general, Mandla Mabuso, attempted to allay fears around the bill.

Mabaso said there is no intention to to disrupt the constitutional process that happened in 1994.

He said the government would use expropriation when necessary and not abuse the process.

He denied the process is being fast-tracked, saying all 1 600 submissions received countrywide will be studied.

Barnsley said the bill’s loose wording makes it open to abuse.

He said farmers feel so strongly about the issue that if changes are not made to the bill, they will consider a constitutional challenge. The bill is expected to be passed by June 26.

Barnsley was elated by the response of commercial farmers who supported Kwanalu and came in their numbers to show their objection to the bill. However, he was not sure if the government lawyers even listened to them.

“To me it was as if they were going through the motions and just paying lip service to the public participation process.”

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