Land is a huge issue in South Africawhere racial inequality remains entrenched more than two decades after the end of apartheid when millions of the black majority were dispossessed of their land by a white minority.
The National Assembly agreed to the establishment of a committee that will draft an amendment to section 25 of the Constitution – a law which will allow the government to take homes from the people – and refuse to pay them compensation.
As many in the nation see the move as retribution for the ‘original sin’ when decades ago black people were driven off their land, it is believed white farmers will be driven from their homes immediately.
Governing party The African National Congress (ANC) wants to amend the law so the government can take back land and distribute it.
However, critics say it is likely it will be handed off to their friends rather than dished out to those in need.
Last week the nations politicians fast tracked the set up of a committee which will write the legal change and present it next year.
The motion was adopted with 183 MPs voting yes, 77 voting no and no abstentions in fiery scenes as South Africans battle over land reform.
In the same week, South Africa’s High Court rejected a legal challenge brought by a group representing white farmers against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans for land expropriation without compensation.
Currently section 25 of the Constitution ‘just and equitable’ payment which reflects ‘an equitable balance between the public interest and the interests of those affected’ must be offered for land – but changes would abolish the need to compensate.
Economic Freedom Fighters politician Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi said those arguing against legalising land grabs are ‘beneficiaries of racism’.
‘Your time is up, white people,’ She added.
The EFF will later put forward an amendment stating all land in private hands must be appropriated.
‘What it (the passing of the motion) also says, very clearly, to the people of South Africa is that regardless of their submissions, this bill is a fait accompli (already decided),’ Steenhuisen said.
‘This is madness. The message it sends to the people of South Africa is ‘we don’t care what you say’.’
MP Sibusiso Mncwabe supported the adoption of the motion: ‘Let’s continue giving this Christmas gift (expropriation without compensation) to our people.’
The Joint Constitutional Review Committee’s report recommended that section 25 of the Constitution be amended ‘so as to address the historic wrongs caused by the arbitrary dispossession of land’.
The report also recommended that the Constitutional Amendment Bill be tabled, processed and passed before the end of the Fifth Parliament, which will rise before next year’s election, presumably in March or April.
However, experts said it is not likely to happen if proper processes are followed.
The motion gives the committee a deadline of March 31, 2019, to complete its work.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu says the nationalisation of land presents a risk that could see those in power giving land away to their friends and cronies.
In some places the wheels are already in motion.
A city outside Johannesburg is preparing what the mayor calls a ‘test case’ over plans to take hundreds of acres of land from private owners, without paying for it in order to build low-cost housing.
Last month, Ekurhuleni’s city council voted in favour of forging ahead with ‘expropriation without compensation’ – a legal tool that the ruling African National Congress says is necessary to provide land for disadvantaged black citizens.
Ramaphosa handed over the title deeds of 4,586 hectares of land to Chief Inkosi Mandla Mkwanazi of the KwaMkwanazi community in Empangeni, near Durban.
The KwaMkwanazi community was forcibly removed from their land more than 100 years ago following the enactment of the 1913 Land Act.
Like other South African cities, Ekurhuleni faces a dire housing crunch, with some 600,000 of its nearly 4 million people living in ‘informal settlements’ and a shortage of land to build homes.
Executive mayor of Ekurhuleni, Mzwandile Masina, who heads the local ANC-led coalition, echoed the president, saying landowners in South Africa don’t need to be ‘scared’.
He added: ‘Our policy is not to take the land by force. Our policy is to make sure the land is shared amongst those that need it.’
Ekurhuleni plans to expropriate about 865 acres (350 hectares) of land in the city limits, both private and government-owned, that has been vacant for decades and develop it to relieve pressure in vast tracts of ramshackle dwellings. The mayor did not identify the landowners.