Peter Setou, chief executive of the Vumelana Advisory Fund, spoke to Agriorbit about the progress of land reform in South Africa.

Last year, says Setou, expropriation without compensation (EWC) dominated land reform discussions. “At the heart of this debate was the need for a constitutional amendment to allow for EWC. This led to public hearings and deliberations before the Constitutional Review Committee which culminated in the committee making a recommendation to parliament to amend section 25 of the Constitution to provide clarity on and to allow EWC.” The focus was on how South Africa can address the many challenges that surround land reform, in its particularly complicated context.

Land reform is crucial

All South Africans must acknowledge the historical dispossession of land and the consequent need for land reform, Setou says. Restoration of land has been at the core of the liberation struggle while the  process of dispossession has led to structural conditions that need to be changed.  Setou points out that social cohesion in South Africa is largely dependent on effective and sustainable land reform. Balanced and pragmatic land reform is imperative if we are to progress towards peace and stability, he adds.

The South African farming community has an invaluable role to play in ensuring a well-managed and sustainable land reform programme, according to Setou. “There are already a number of successful collaborative efforts between commercial farmers and land reform beneficiaries. These good stories should be replicated across the country for the desired impact.”

Calling for broad commitment to land reform, he says it opens the possibility of building productive relationships between land reform beneficiaries, previous owners and other investors, all of whom are acutely needed to ensure the productive use of land. “Where there is acknowledgement of the impact of historical dispossession by current land owners and private companies with the capacity to form partnerships with land reform beneficiaries, the process of finalising claims and maintaining relationships that put land to effective use is eased.”

The EWC process

After intensive debate, including deliberations before the Joint Constitutional Review Committee, parliament adopted the committee’s recommendation. Setou explains that the report states that parliament must table, process and pass a Constitutional Amendment Bill before the end of the 5th democratic Parliament. “An expropriation bill must then be processed and finalised once the amendment to the constitution has been effected. This would be followed by the promulgation of the regulations to put the Expropriation Act once passed by parliament into operation.” The Department of Public Works issued a draft bill for comment on 21 December 2018.

It is highly unlikely that this will be finalised in 2019, especially since there is a national election scheduled for May this year, Setou says. “Given the vested interest and the fact that land reform and EWC in particular is a highly charged matter, the whole process is likely to be protracted with possibilities of several court challenges.”

The EWC discussion

Predicting political behaviour in the wake of an election is very difficult. The same applies to the EWC discussion and its future. “It is difficult to predict what is likely to happen. However, in view of the decision by parliament to amend section 25 of the Constitution, we anticipate that a Constitutional Amendment Bill will be tabled in due course. Once this has been introduced there will probably be a huge interest in deliberations leading towards the finalisation of the bill. The Department of Public Works has already published a draft Expropriation Bill for comment. We anticipate that this bill will be introduced in parliament later in the year.” Setou says it’s a tough call to state with any certainly when this will all be finalised.

The Vumelama Advisory Fund’s CEO warns against being blinded by constitutional and legislative changes around land reform. “We must move with a sense of urgency to address the current challenges while we deliberate on the legislative changes. It will be a sad day for South Africa and an indictment against all of us if we fail to address the current challenges in land reform because of a preoccupation with constitutional and legislative changes.” – Marike Brits, AgriOrbit