Land expropriation: identifying who benefits crucial for success

Ruth Hall argues that expropriation of land without compensation should benefit the poor and women. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Speaking at a public seminar organised by PLAAS, Professor Ruth Hall from the University of the Western Cape argued that there is no need to change the Constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation.

University of the Western Cape, Bellville, Cape Town, South Africa

Professor Ruth Hall from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) says that there is no need for the constitution to be changed as it currently provides for land expropriation without compensation.

Hall was speaking at a seminar at the University of the Western Cape today. “The expropriation of land without compensation has always been the power that the state has. The issue of willing buyer-willing seller is the policy choice of the ruling party,” said Hall addressing about 200 attendees who were from various interest groups including non-governmental organisations that campaign for land rights, students, academics and trade unionists.

“Ever since the motion was passed in Parliament we have been bombarded by calls and they are not from farmers but from mining houses, big institutions and banks wanting to know what will expropriation for compensation mean for them,” she said referring to the motion sponsored by the Economic Freedom Fighters that calls for constitutional review to allow for expropriation of land without compensation.

Hall argues that the banks and mining houses are concerned about how the markets and investors will respond and the fact that the property clause is not limited to agricultural land but includes stocks and bonds, assets and intellectual property.

The ruling African National Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters agree on land expropriation but Hall notes that the two parties have different approaches when it comes to compensation. “The EFF wants without compensation across the board whilst the ANC wants to judge compensation on a case by case basis,” notes Hall.

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Cases for expropriation without compensation

Hall outlined three cases where the land can be currently be expropriated without compensation. “The land on which some informal settlements are based is either government or private land, so that can be expropriated for settlement,” said Hall.

Currently the land on which the Marikana informal settlement is built on is private land and the community want the City of Cape Town to expropriate the land.

The second case that Professor Hall is putting forward is inner city buildings. The City of Johannesburg is looking at expropriating land without compensation to tackle the housing backlog. This is despite the fact that the Democratic Alliance which is leading the City voted against the motion.

The third case is that of labour tenants. This refers to people who have to work for a farmer in return for accommodation.

Hall pointed out that in the absence of a strong occupation movement in South Africa some of these cases are not something that the government will consider.

Restitution and foreign owned land

One of the questions around land restitution came from Harry May from the Surplus Peoples Project. He wanted to know why claims for land restitution may extend back to only dispossession after 1913. The land restitution cut off date is 19 June 1913. This means those who were dispossessed before that cannot claim. “Most of the communities we work with in the Western Cape and Northern Cape had their land taken before 1913, so I question the logic of using 1913,” said May.

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On this issue Hall responded by saying that she prefers redistribution for current beneficiaries and purpose. “Restitution is expensive and as a claimant you need to produce proof that land was taken from your ancestors and you also need to provide proof of circumstances,” said Hall.

Another participant, Constance Mogale from the Alliance for Rural Democracy raised concerns about foreign ownership of land and Hall responded by stating that she doesn’t believe that there is a difference between a rich local owner and a rich foreign owner. “Right now most of the farms are owned by big corporates and transnationals – it’s not just a race issue,” she said.

Democratisation of the land debate

Asked about examples of successful land redistribution Hall pointed out that it is more important to make sure that the poor and those who work the land benefit and are supported by the government. In a study that she did in the Eastern Cape on land redistribution, they found out that it was the rich and agri-business who benefited. “[They] were fronting with black workers who they were not even paying a minimum wage or [who] were not benefiting from the farm,” she said.

“There is a need to engage local government around expropriation of land without compensation,” said Hall. “We need to know who wants land, what will they do with it and how will they get the land.” She stressed that the what part can’t come first.

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