Has the land grab begun, or will it be nipped in the bud?
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday insisted expropriation of land without compensation would be implemented in a way that will circumvent damaging the economy and compromising food security.
In February, the National Assembly adopted a motion brought by the EFF to begin a process to amend the Constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation.
Since Parliament passed a motion paving the way for a review of section 25 of the Constitution to explore the viability of expropriation without compensation, vacant land in Tshwane, Midrand and other areas, including near Johannesburg, has been occupied.
In his maiden question-and-answer session in the National Assembly, Ramaphosa said the government would not tolerate land grabs and occupations.
"As we implement this resolution [expropriation without compensation], we should be clear on how we will not damage the economy and food security," Ramaphosa said in response to a question from DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
Ramaphosa said there was a strong case to be made that the use of expropriation without compensation in certain circumstances to advance land reform was consistent with the provisions of the Constitution.
"The property clause was never constructed for the purpose of retaining existing property relations.… The property clause in the Constitution specifically requires that the state take reasonable legislative and other measures to [make it possible for] citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis," said Ramaphosa.
"Rather than be scared [of expropriation without compensation], I say come to the party, let us discuss and find solutions," he added.
Maimane said the policy would actually devastate the economy and disadvantage those who are meant to benefit from land reform.
Many observers believe the push for expropriation without compensation would most likely spook investors. As business confidence soared to a three-year high on the back of the recent political developments, analysts remain concerned about Ramaphosa’s ability to swiftly implement policy changes, with land reform emerging as a glaring issue.
The RMB/BER business confidence index jumped by 11 points from 34 in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 45 in the first quarter of 2018.
While a score below 50 still indicates dampened confidence, RMB said an increase of such a magnitude was rare.
The huge jump has been driven more by the expectation that the recent market-friendly political developments will boost activity levels in future than by an immediate improvement in the real economy, said Ettienne le Roux, the chief economist at RMB.
Ramaphosa said in Parliament that there will be "broad discussions" and that the Constitution Review Committee will decide on whether the Constitution should be amended.
"With this in mind, it goes without saying that the current uncertainty around land reform needs to be resolved as quickly as possible," said Le Roux.
If uncertainty was "allowed to linger, the latest rise in the RMB/BER [index] could easily fizzle out with little or even no enduring positive impact on business capital expenditure and the economy at large".
The Agribusiness confidence index, which measures sentiment in agriculture, improved by nine points to 58 in the first quarter of 2018, after falling to below the 50-point mark in the last quarter of 2017.
The Democratic Alliance's view of land expropriation
The DA confirmed on Monday that an SMS accusing the ANC and the EFF of working together to take all private homes and land was official party communication, while leader Mmusi Maimane branded expropriation without compensation as state-sanctioned theft.
Maimane said on Monday that proposed amendments to the Constitution would strip all owners of their property — "white and black South Africans alike would lose everything".
On the SMS, Portia Adams, Maimane’s spokeswoman, said: "What is alarmist is a proposal to seriously threaten property rights, which are the bedrock of the economy. We have a responsibility to inform South Africans about what is really at stake and to mobilise them to defeat this dangerous constitutional amendment."
Since Parliament passed a motion paving the way for a review of section 25 of the Constitution to explore the viability of expropriation without compensation, vacant land in Midrand, near Johannesburg, has been occupied.
The constitutional review committee has until August to report back to Parliament about section 25.
The DA would campaign against the proposed amendments, Maimane vowed.
"You can have a growing, thriving economy or you can have expropriation," he said.
"But you absolutely cannot have both.… We are the party of the protection of all individual rights, cardinal among those the right to security of one’s own property and the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labour.
"We regard the attempt to amend the Constitution as nothing but a populist effort to scapegoat the Constitution for the failure of the ANC ... to reform land ownership."
The DA supported land restitution and redistribution, and efforts to undo the legacy of forced land dispossession.
"Any suggestion that our firm opposition to expropriation without compensation is equivalent to opposing land reform is simply nonsense," he said.
Ben Cousins of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies said the government had to provide more effective political and policy leadership on land and expropriation without compensation.
"The Bill of Rights in the Constitution has been termed a ‘mandate for social transformation’. In relation [to] the property clause in particular, this does not seek to preserve existing property and power relations. It does prohibit the state from arbitrarily depriving anyone of property, but nonarbitrary deprivation, including by way of expropriation, is allowed.
"In fact, section 25 contains a mandate for the fundamental transformation of property relations, necessary given our history," said Cousins.
He said expropriation with or without compensation was a means to achieve land redistribution, security of tenure and land restitution, all of which were in the public interest.