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South Africa's Expropriation Bill Cleared for Presidential Approval After Decades-Long Debate

Published March 29, 2024
1 months ago

After sixteen years of robust debate, legislative revisions, and numerous controversies, South Africa's Expropriation Bill has finally cleared its latest hurdle: parliamentary approval. On Wednesday, 27th March, the National Assembly, heavily backed by the African National Congress (ANC), passed the Expropriation Bill as amended by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) with a decisive vote count of 205 in favor to 108 against, on the eve of the National Assembly’s recess before elections.

The journey of the Expropriation Bill, beginning in 2008, sought to replace the outdated apartheid-era legislation still present in the statute books. The path to approval has been anything but smooth, notably due to intertwining with the debate over amending the Constitution to permit compensationless expropriation—a concept hotly debated from 2018 to 2021, fueled by ANC factional disputes and the so-called “radical economic transformation” initiative.

The Bill, along with the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which was passed in December 2023, could face challenges in court. Significantly, political parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA), Freedom Front Plus (FF+), and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) have petitioned for the president to send the Expropriation Bill back to Parliament or directly to the Constitutional Court to adjudicate its constitutionality. Their concerns center around the perceived risks this legislation holds for the current landholders and the operational procedures by which land will be redistributed.

The IFP voiced discontent with the regularity of processes in provincial mandates acquisition within the NCOP, supporting land reform as a transformational tool but rejecting this legislation as the means to achieve it. On the other hand, FF+ highlighted bureaucratic inefficiencies as major barriers to land redistribution, implying that enough land is available should those be addressed. The DA has taken an adversarial stance, naming the law as a covert means of expropriation and signaling its intent to resist by urging the Presidential veto.

Contrastingly, the ANC vouched for the Expropriation Bill, asserting that it aligns with international best practices and the concept of fairness in land expropriation. The Bill is described as a well-balanced proposition, anticipated to facilitate the development of housing and health facilities. Moreover, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) hailed the legislation as a victory for the working class and a step forward in expediting land reform.

This latest version of the Expropriation Bill, delineates the conditions under which “nil compensation” might be acceptable, including scenarios involving land held purely for speculation, properties that are abandoned, or state-owned land. The parliamentary legal advisor confirmed the Bill's constitutional alignment, and the majority of the public works committee echoed that the adjustments ensure constitutional rights are upheld for owners and rights holders.

This critical juncture in the legislative process for the Expropriation Bill underscores the complexity of land reform in post-apartheid South Africa. It reflects the continual democratic evolution the nation undergoes as it balances historical injustices with legal and economic stability. As the Expropriation Bill now awaits President Cyril Ramaphosa's signature, the nation watches with bated breath to see how the president will act, considering the mixed public sentiment and the potential for further legal battles.

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