The bill to amend the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation is set to be finalised by next month. It is a foregone conclusion therefore that government will have yet another mechanism to try to achieve what it has been so singularly unable to in more than a quarter of a century, which is to redistribute land in a way that redresses the past, promotes economic security and prosperity, and eliminates inequality.
It has been obvious from the outset that however much land reform was needed, it failed because of incompetence, lack of administrative and financial support, and tensions brought on by contradictory objectives.
Submissions on the bill being considered by the parliamentary ad hoc committee on land expropriation show that no compromise is possible before the law is enacted. The public participation process reflected a broad consensus that land reform is necessary and needs to speed up, but the question of zero compensation still raises concerns about how a bully-boy state will behave given extra powers.
It is also pointed out that zero compensation is not the default position.The case for any or no compensation will have to be argued.
Most people would be satisfied that if the safeguards are sufficient protection against executive decree, then the threat posed by the possibility of expropriation without compensation is limited.
Much has also been made of the perception that the bill is an assault on property rights in their entirety, and that what is is government’s sights is not just land, but private and intellectual property, pensions and savings.
The essence of this fear is not necessarily what this government might do with the legislation, but what President Ace Magashule would do with it. But given his disdain for the Constitution, and his track record of state capture, the details of this or that law, good or bad, will be irrelevant.