South African parliament endorses report on disputed land reform

A 'No entry sign' is seen at an entrance of a farm outside Witbank, Mpumalanga province, South Africa July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa’s main opposition party said on Tuesday it could go to court to stop proposed land reforms after parliament approved a report endorsing a constitutional amendment that would allow expropriations without compensation.

Land is a hot-button issue in South Africa where racial inequality remains entrenched more than two decades after the end of apartheid when millions among the black majority were dispossessed of their land by a white minority.

A parliamentary team last month recommended a constitutional amendment to make it possible for the state to expropriate land without compensation in the public interest.

The team’s report was debated in parliament on Tuesday and approved by a majority of the members present.

However, adopting the report is just one step in a long process to change the constitution to allow for land reforms.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Jacob Zuma in February, has prioritized land redistribution as he seeks to unite the fractured ruling African National Congress (ANC) and win public support ahead of an election next year.

But the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and some rights groups are critical of the government’s plans, saying it will jeopardize property rights and scare off investors.

“We support expropriation of land without compensation or zero Rand compensation in the public interest,” the ANC’s Vincent Smith said during the parliamentary debate.

Ahead of Tuesday’s debate, John Steenhuisen, the main opposition’s chief whip, said “the DA will not hesitate to approach the courts” should the report backing the expropriation of land be adopted.

Following Tuesday’s vote, a new bill proposing the change to Section 25 of the constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation would need to be drafted.

It would also require the public’s contribution before a debate and vote in the assembly. To become law, it would need passed by both houses of parliament and then signed by Ramaphosa. It is unclear how long this process would take.

Last week the High Court rejected a legal challenge brought by AfriForum, a group representing mainly white Afrikaners who wanted to overturn a parliamentary committee report supporting changes to the constitution.

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