Land reform is not just about 'expropriation without compensation' - De Lille

Public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille in her ministerial home in Waterkloof, Johannesburg. (James de Villiers, News24)
Public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille in her ministerial home in Waterkloof, Johannesburg. (James de Villiers, News24)

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille believes South Africans are being narrow-minded in only focusing on land expropriation without compensation.

In an interview with News24, De Lille – who helped draft the country's Constitution – said people were making a mistake to not fully study the land commission's report on land reform, and only zoning in on certain aspects of it.

The 144-page report, released in July, recommends that the state increase funding for land reform, discourage individuals retaining unproductive land, and change the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation.

"Lots of people have not read [the report] because they’ve only looked for expropriation without compensation," De Lille said.

"The whole thing in the country is about expropriation without compensation. How dumb can you be?"

She said land reform included restitution, land redistribution, giving people title deeds, and helping new farmers.

"Let’s focus on the good things in that report.

"I think we need to change our communication around land and begin to show South Africans that land reform means lots more things."

'Under very, very strict circumstances'

De Lille, who opposed a change to the Constitution during the 2019 elections, said more consultation would have to be done before Parliament considered adding land expropriation without compensation to the Constitution.

"You must look at that land reform report very carefully because, although they support expropriation without compensation, they said it must be under very, very strict circumstances," she added.

"They even take it further, that that decision can only be taken by a court of law."

President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed De Lille as a minister in May – the only opposition party represented in Cabinet – after her Good party won two National Assembly seats in the May 8 elections.

The political party was formed in December, only two months after she resigned as Cape Town mayor and left her previous political home, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille (James de Villiers, News24)

De Lille said her reputation preceded her before arriving at the public works department.

"They know that I understand the urgency of being in government."

She said, since arriving, she had tried to restore Batho Pele (people first) principles which have been lost during years of mismanagement, and had tried to ensure that the department paid its creditors in time.

Other short term plans include handing over title deeds to farm owners in Limpopo, setting up the infrastructure department, and achieving a clean audit.

"I want to achieve [a clean audit] in this financial year and next financial year," De Lille said, adding it was a key performance indicator in the contracts of the department’s managers.

She said R430m, identified by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) as being lost to corruption, also needs to be recovered.

"You know that... we don’t have the time anymore; even some days I feel tired, but we don’t have the luxury of time," De Lille said.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic… no, it’s in an economic crisis. And so I’m just going to do my bit to try and prevent us going down that cliff."

'Integration comes when people live together'

It was an indictment, she said, that 25 years into our democracy the country had done very little on spatial transformation.

"There is a young generation that is emerging that [is saying] we should create a country where they can grow up free, where they can grow up in an integrated society."

De Lille said she wanted to use the public works department to help achieve that integration, by using public land for public good.

"Now, integration comes when people live together. Integration cannot come when we still live miles away from each other."

De Lille, who grew up in rural Beaufort West in the Western Cape, said God and her love for South Africa helped her get up in the morning.

"I travel a lot around the world, but every time you come back, you say it's still the best. Warts and all, it's still the best country.

"And, you know I am also a strong believer, you know I might not go to church that often, but I also believe in hope, I believe in prayer, and we must never get our country to where we give up hope, then we become hopeless and then we’re going to die."

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