Paranoia, fear and even speculation of a civil war were running rife after the National Assembly passed the controversial Expropriation Bill this week.
However, political analyst Piet Croucamp said people should not chase ghosts.
“People are not going to lose their properties. The Bill needs to be read in conjunction with the constitution.
The government can’t just come and take your land,” he said. Croucamp added, however, uncertainty about the country’s regulations of land occupation and property rights affected capital formation and investments.
“This can also only be done if it is carried out by the legislators and if it meets the requirements of the constitution of 1996, which sets very specific prerequisites for private ownership in South Africa.”
Croucamp said the new law provides for it to be in the general interest through a specific purpose, “like when land is for speculation or abandoned”.
“As it is under the existing constitution, the state could expropriate land if it wanted to build a power line or a dam. It’s always been like that.”
On Wednesday, after the Bill was passed, Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille said the government had no intention of using the Expropriation Bill to arbitrarily seize land from private owners.
The passing of the Bill came 14 years after it was first introduced and is aimed at replacing the apartheid-era Expropriation Act of 1975.
“[Arbitrary expropriation] is not the kind of pain and injustice that democratically elected representatives will subject South Africans to again,” De Lille said.
“It is our responsibility to correct the historic injustice of land ownership patterns in South Africa.” De Lille added it was “extremely dangerous to suggest the government would arbitrarily take people’s property, such as their homes”.
“[Land] is an emotive issue. Across the country, there is still great pain being felt by people of colour who were stripped of their homes and denied the right to own property under the apartheid regime,” she said.
“We can debate our points but what is wrong is to instil fearmongering and distort the facts in a debate about land – and this is done all too often.
Many times, those against the Expropriation Bill have been people who were never subjected to laws that stripped people of their property or rights to own property.”
Except, fear and uncertainty remain. Free State cattle farmer Tewie Wessels said land expropriation without compensation would lead to a civil war.
His farm has been in his family for more than 200 years. “I can’t begin to explain our deep connection with this land.
In 1890, 89% of Afrikaners were part of the agriculture sector,” he said. Wessels said many farmers had perished over the years due to attacks, plagues and pests and the great depression.
“Thirty years ago, there were 60 000, now there are less than 30 000 commercial Afrikaner farmers left,” he said – and things were getting harder by the day.
“There is a false perception that Afrikaners own the majority of the land, but it’s not true. The state does.” Wessels added it was also untrue that farmers were rich.
“We struggle with theft, infrastructure, price increases and all. Every day is a struggle, but I can’t afford to give up my farm, because then I have … no future.”
The Congress of South African Trade Unions said the Expropriation Bill was a historic victory for the working class, the dispossessed and the downtrodden.
“It is a welcome step forward to honouring the ANC’s 2019 elections manifesto commitment.
“Expropriation will be a key tool that will capacitate the government to accelerate land reform,” said its parliamentary coordinator, Matthew Parks.
The essence of this Bill, he said, was that the government could use expropriation – when relevant without compensation – to support land reform, addressing the legacies of apartheid and the inequalities that still scar South Africa’s socioeconomic landscape.
“This is critical, as South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal nations,” he said.
Bennie van Zyl, Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa general manager, said the Bill, with a clause that provides for expropriation without compensation, was a source of concern for farmers, agriculture and the economy.
“We do not deny the need for a responsible Expropriation Bill; where there is the need for infrastructure development, land can be expropriated, but at market value compensation.
“The moment an approach is taken where land is expropriated without paying for it, the danger lights go on,” he said. Van Zyl said South Africa’s economic growth was weak due to uncertainty of the policy environment and the high levels of crime.
“The only way this can be addressed is by growing the economy. Fixed investments are one of the most important things needed to achieve economic growth.”
“No person will willingly decide to invest if the state can take your assets without paying. “There can hardly be a greater negative aspect that will limit economic growth.”