Eskom’s chief executive wants the power to expropriate land. While other organisations were questioning the constitutionality of the Expropriation Bill, the beleaguered power utility made the request while the bill was being debated in Parliament yesterday. Eskom’s general manager of property, Mmamoloko Seabe, said that Eskom was struggling to access servitude on property. Because Eskom has to pay market value, construction was delayed and this increased costs. She asked for expropriation power to be delegated to either the chairperson of the Eskom board or its chief executive. Under the current system Eskom was forced to pay more for property rights and in some cases had to pay for an entire farm. “When we are in a situation where the landowner is stubborn we have to give in, because the delay costs us more.” She said other state enterprises, such as the South African National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency and the South African National Roads Agency, had the power to expropriate land. Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, an Economic Freedom Fighters member of Parliament, said that Eskom should be allowed to expropriate land without compensation. “The power lines aren’t for an individual; they are for all of us.” Jeremy Cronin, deputy minister of public works, said Ndlozi was partly right: “There is nothing in the property clause of the Constitution that says you have to pay market value.” Earlier, Dr Anthea Jeffery, policy chief of the South African Institute of Race Relations, pointed out several constitutional flaws in the bill as it currently stood. She said it was in conflict with Article 25 of the Constitution because it did not meet all the requirements. It was also in conflict with Article 34 because it limited people’s access to the courts. “The bill doesn’t allow the courts to decide on the validity of expropriation,” she said. Phephelaphi Dube of the Centre for Constitutional Rights at the FW de Klerk Foundation said she welcomed the bill because it would bring expropriation in line with the Constitution, but there were concerns. According to Dube, the definition of property was too broad and created legal uncertainty. So did the definition of the public interest, which was not exact enough and created the possibility of random expropriation by the minister. The centre’s submission sparked a discussion between Freedom Front Plus MP Dr Pieter Groenewald and Ndlozi, who asked whether the centre gave its support to redress due to land “stolen” during apartheid and colonialism. Groenewald wanted to know how far back the definition of stolen land was to go. “Should we go as far back as when blacks moved southwards and the land of the Khoi and the San was stolen?” The committee will hear more submissions today, including one from agricultural industry association AgriSA.