Land: DA join the fight against proposed Expropriation Bill

2008-06-02 00:00

Cape Town - The Democratic Alliance has become the latest body to reject the proposed Expropriation Bill, with DA leader Helen Zille and other party leaders saying yesterday that the bill in its present form will undermine the land reform programme and threaten the foundations of South Africa’s economy.

Zille and the party’s Public Works and Land Affairs spokesmen, Sydney Opperman and Maans Nel told a media briefing the bill constitutes a “full-on assault” on some of the most fundamental principles of the Constitution.

“It should be of concern to anyone ñ urban or rural, black or white - who currently owns, or intends in the future to own property of any kind,” Zille said.

The bill is aimed at replacing the Expropriation Act of 1975, which, according to the Cabinet, does not conform with the Constitution. The Act requires compensation for market value, actual financial loss and “solatium” — a consolation for loss - while, in terms of the Constitution, the compensation must be just and equitable and reflecting an “equitable balance between the public interest and the interest of those affected”.

The new law would allow the minister of land affairs to decide on the amount of compensation to be paid after being advised by an expropriation board.

The civil rights group, AfriForum and other parties claim that the bill undermines the provisions of the Constitution regarding, amongst others, property rights, the right to access to the courts, the right to just administrative action, as well as the authority and independence of the courts.

Zille said yesterday that, while the DA supports a sustainable and equitable land reform process, the bill will bring about the opposite result by undermining a legally sound land reform programme.

“It will also threaten the very foundation of South Africaís economy ñ the security of property rights ñ leading to massive disinvestment and capital flight, to the detriment of all South Africans, particularly the poor and the landless, who will be the ones most affected by any sharp decline in South Africaís economy, as they will not have the resources to flee the economic fallout.”

Zille said the wide-ranging powers given to the Minister of Land Affairs and Agriculture to expropriate any property or any right in property is one of the problematic areas of the bill.

“The Bill defines property very broadly; a definition which could be read to include any kind of property with an economic value (and which is completely unrelated to land reform) ranging from immovable property, to shares and companies, to cars, furniture and other personal possessions.

She said another problem is that the bill does not define what constitutes the public interest.

“Therefore the Minister may expropriate for whatever reason he or she deems appropriate. This in turn will make land sales, or indeed any other kind of commercial transaction, very difficult to conclude with certainty and in good faith.”

Thirdly, Zille said, by giving the minister has the sole authority to appoint the members of national and regional Expropriation Advisory Boards, Parliament as well as the public are bypassed on the composition of the boards. “These structures will not be impartial.

“Fourthly, in a clear violation of the Constitution, in a situation where there is no agreement between the Minister and the property owner on an acceptable price for that property, the Minister alone will be entitled to decide on the amount of compensation and the State is not compelled to consider the market value of the property ñ and may offer less than market value.

A further problem, Zille said, is that the person whose property has been expropriated will not be able to challenge the amount of compensation offered in court, but only the process that led to the expropriation.

The DA spokespeople said the bill is a “desperate attempt” to distract attention from the Stateís inability to properly manage the land reform process.

“It is also designed to help mask the fact that the state has been unable to make proper use of market mechanisms to help distribute land.”

The DA has proposed that the State should become a far more active player in the land market.

Secondly, the DA proposes dividing the Ministry of Land Affairs and Agriculture into two separate ministries to give specialised attention to each department.

“This should be followed by an audit of the land the State holds to allow for the faster release of surplus land for redistribution. It is revealing that only 30% of the land held by the State is surveyed and registered.”

The DA said public/private partnerships in land reform need to be actively encouraged.

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