South Africa Sees Land-Law Change by End-2019 at ‘Very Least’

(Bloomberg) -- Changes to South Africa’s constitution to make it easier to expropriate land without compensation will only come into effect by the end of the year at the earliest, according to the lawmaker who is overseeing the amendment.

Lawmakers in both chambers of parliament -- the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces -- in December approved a committee report that recommends the change to section 25 of the constitution. They set up a separate, ad-hoc committee to come up with the bill needed to effect the amendment, and on Feb. 12 the new body elected the ruling African National Congress’s Thoko Didiza as its chairwoman.

The National Assembly, which adjourns from March 22 until after the national election on May 8, will on March 19 debate whether her committee should continue its work until the day before the vote, or whether it should revive the process after the polls, Didiza said in an interview Friday in Cape Town.

“No wording of the change to Section 25 has been agreed to because, depending what the NA decides, that task will be given to drafters and then we will have to go through a public participation process about that,” she said. The NCOP “will also have to go through a similar process to change the section. So, I don’t see the section being changed and coming into effect before the end of the year, at the very least.”

The ANC says the constitutional amendments are needed to address racially skewed ownership patterns dating back to apartheid and white-minority rule. Farmers’ groups and some opposition parties say the changes will undermine property rights and deter investment. Critics say earlier reform programs the ruling party oversaw failed dismally and its renewed focus is a bid to counter the populist Economic Freedom Fighters party before the election.

Given that section 25 is part of the Bill of Rights of the constitution, two-thirds of lawmakers in the in the 400-seat National Assembly and six of the nine provinces in the National Council of Provinces, the other parliamentary chamber, will need to approve the change, constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said by phone from Cape Town.

Changes to the constitution are separate to the draft Expropriation Bill, which will outline the circumstances under which the state can take land without paying for it.

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