Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Land Restitution and the Constitution
I'm starting to hear that dinner-table talk about "SA going the way of Zimbabwe" with the latest inferences on land restitution made by our President in the State of the Nation address. Once again, it's from those that are uninformed.

Land restitution is an absolute reality in South Africa. Black land ownership is still pitiful in percentage terms, with a negligible increase in the last decade. There has been little progress in land claims, and little assistance from the general South African community. In simple terms, there were injustices done in the past, where land was taken - without remuneration - from certain segments of the population. Defense of property rights of those threatened by land claims now, needs to be tempered by those same rights being far more injustly crushed in the past.

The second point is that expropriation has been forced on government by a lack of cooperation, but most notably, forms part of a judicial process, not a forced expropriation. A land claim is noted and sent to a land owner. He can then choose whether to oppose the claim, at which time it goes to the judiciary, which in the South African constitution is independent of government. A decision against the claim will be respected by government. Should he not choose to oppose the claim, then the negotiation begins on pricing, with independent evaluations of the land value. Should these negotiations fail, then the government has the right to force expropriation based on those independent valuations of the land in question. There is no scope for unannounced or unremunerated expropriations, and forced expropriations are only tendered after the collapse of the protracted negotiated route. Zimbabwe proves no blueprint for success, only lessons of failure.

The ANC government has had to endure opponents slights that they would change the constitution for their 'corrupt' ways as soon as they could. As yet, no significant changes have been made, despite the two-thirds majority. There is a healthy respect by the ANC for the constitution, that they largely voted into existence. As Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota states yesterday "Democracy demands self-discipline" and discipline is what the ANC has proven time and again with respect to the integrity of the constitution.