Former president Kgalema Motlanthe has warned of a dire impact on society if property rights in South Africa aren’t protected.
Speaking at a dialogue about a mooted agricultural development agency facilitated by former constitutional negotiator Roelf Meyer in Pretoria, Motlanthe said there is no need to amend Section 25 of the Constitution to enable expropriation in the public interest because the country’s supreme law already provides for that.
“If property is not protected you destroy value, and if there’s no value then you won’t have an economy driving forward. People won’t invest effort and resources in building assets. And if you think about it properly, if property is not protected by law, society as we understand it today, will disappear because the kind of anarchy and chaos that would ensue is difficult to imagine,” Motlanthe said.
Section 25 protects property and recognises the need for the restoration of rights to those who have been dispossessed, Motlanthe added.
“It recognises that the injustices of the past must be addressed and stipulates how it should happen with the confines of the law and the Constitution.”
The “land question” remains a source of deep national grievance for black South Africans because of a history of dispossession, he said, but added that the Constitution enables land reform and land restitution. If restitution and reform is undertaken without regard for the rights of property owners it will have disastrous consequences for the South African economy, he told the gathering of commercial farmers, emerging black commercial farmers, banks and representatives from various agriculture organisations.
In 2015, Motlanthe chaired a panel which the speaker of Parliament asked to investigate the impact of legislation since 1994. The panel found that land reform and restitution failed. It found that the Constitution was not the reason for that failure, but poor implementation of policy and a lack of urgency by government.
He told the gathering that he hopes the sixth Parliament will reconsider the report after the fifth Parliament went “on a detour” following the ANC’s elective conference that resolved that the government implement a policy of expropriation without compensation.
“The panel found there’s no need to amend the Constitution, Section 25 already makes provision for expropriation in the public interest and for the public good and takes into consideration factors to take into account when determining value. That includes how the property was acquired, what it was used for and whether improvements have been made on the property,” Motlanthe argued.
Meyer explained the purpose of the planned development agency would be to address the need for a sustainable and united approach to land reform and creating commercial prosperity for established and emerging farmers.
“This agency needs to have two clear aims: one is to empower black farmers to become successful, and the other is the transfer of skills and capital to those farmers.”
He explained that the agency had the support and blessing of various organised agriculture organisations as well as the country’’ big banks.
“We’ve met with Thoko Didiza, the Minister of Agriculture and Land Reform and although I cannot say we have the support of the government yet, she did give us guidelines on what she wants to see.”
Pitso Sekhoto, chairperson of the Agri-sector Unity Forum, said there was a great need to unify the agriculture sector.
“And I’m not talking about the kind of unity the ANC wants…we need to be as one if we want to take the sector forward.”
Chris Burgess, editor of agriculture weekly Landbouweekblad , said “the overwhelming majority of farmers, 99% of them, are willing and ready to take an active part in land reform. They’re just waiting for a signal”.
“It is critical that the land reform process succeeds. Farmers are the most open-minded people and the most lateral thinkers in the country. I cannot think of another sector that will approach an issue like this in the same way.”
His sentiments were echoed by mega farmer Nick Serfontein, whose open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa went viral last year.
“Land reform is morally right, because it is right to give land back to people from whom it was taken without consent. It is socially right because it gives dignity to people. And it’s economically right because successful land reform will support the economy.