ANC Labor Ally Sees No Need to Amend South Africa Land Rules

(Bloomberg) -- The South African ruling party’s labor partner sees no need to amend the country’s constitution to make it easier to expropriate land without compensation.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, which is the country’s biggest labor federation and is part of the African National Congress-led ruling alliance, said the constitution already enables the state to tackle land reform, restitution and redistribution, and changes were unnecessary.

The clause that deals with land rights and expropriation “is important because it protects the poor from a possible abuse by a future government,” the federation said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “In our quest to expropriate land from white people, we need not be shortsighted and throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Government data shows more than two-thirds of farmland is owned by whites, who constitute 7.8 percent of the country’s 57.7 million people -- a status quo rooted in colonial and white-minority rule. The ANC decided in December that the situation is untenable and tasked a parliamentary committee to review the constitution to address it. The panel is holding public hearings in parliament in Cape Town this week.

Farm Sales

President Cyril Ramaphosa has given assurances that the government isn’t embarking on a land grab and any policy changes won’t be allowed to damage agricultural production. Even so, data released on Tuesday showed farm output contracted an annualized 29.2 percent in the second quarter and was a major contributor to the country falling into its first recession since 2009. Agri SA, a farmers’ lobby group, has observed a sharp slowdown in farm sales.

Agri SA has slammed the ruling party’s plan to change the constitution, telling the panel on Wednesday there was very little cooperation between the national and provincial government on land reform, and bureaucracy and an ineffective legislative framework were frustrating the process.

Traditional leaders, who control 13 percent of South Africa’s land, said they favored a constitutional amendment to facilitate expropriation, but areas under their control should be exempt from seizure.

“It was traditional leaders who led the fight against colonialism in the various wars and it was from those traditional leaders that colonists took land away,” Sipho Mahlangu, chairman of the House of Traditional Leaders, told the parliamentary committee on Thursday.

The South African Human Rights Commission, a statutory body, backed expropriation under some circumstances, but didn’t support changing the constitution, commissioner Andre Gaum told the panel. Parliament should rather draft laws that could enable the state to take land without paying for it, and they could be tested in the Constitutional Court, he said.

The Helen Suzman Foundation, a civil-rights group, also said it favored new legislation, rather than constitutional changes, to spell out how land reform should be effected.

“Such a legislative framework would prohibit arbitrary conduct that would lead to corruption, impoverish the poor even more and seriously impact the economy,” said Anton van Dasen, the group’s legal counselor. “The constitution as it stands does not prevent parliament from passing legislation on expropriation.”

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