Yesterday during a Department’s budget briefing to the Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform (RDLR), firebrand EFF MP Andile Mngxitama offered the RDLR Minister, Gugile Nkwinti, the EFF’s vote in order to get a two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution to expropriate land without compensation. The Minister politely declined, saying, “This thing of being agitated about expropriation without compensation does not speak to reality. The reality is we are a constitutional democracy”.
Last week the Rural Development and Land Reform Committee meeting took a heated turn when MPs discussed the Department’s recent policy proposal that farm owners give farm workers 50% of the land they have been working on. The policy titled “Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land”, will allocate land depending on how long the workers have been there and how much they have contributed to the land’s development. The policy has left farm owners irate and farm workers feeling vulnerable, as farm worker evictions have been threatened.
"This policy is bad in all possible ways. There is no protection for farm workers, of whom a million have been evicted from farms since 1994… What is the target we are working towards to turn around the situation where 40 000 white people own the agricultural land?” asked Mngxitama.
He added that only 8% of land had been successfully redistributed in South Africa in 20 years.
He questioned from where this policy proposal had materialised because up until recently there had been “a deafening silence” on land reform and there continued to be a lack of targets.
Minister Nkwinti responded that he had debated the issue three years ago with Mngxitama when he had made reference to the Green Paper on Land Reform that provided the framework for this and other policies. He added that farmers, farm workers and unions had until April 2015 to comment and contribute to the policy proposal that would see government “buy land according to the just and equitable principle [in the Constitution], not based on willing buyer and willing seller”.
Mngxitama then reiterated that he was concerned that farm workers would be evicted before they could be given ownership of the land. He said that farm workers were effectively still treated as “slaves” and that he was shocked that they were expected to discuss the matter with their employers when power relations were so skewed in the farm owners’ favour. He could not understand why government had not suggested “a moratorium on evictions between now and April next year... farm workers are being evicted as we speak and we do not have any mechanism to protect them”.
The Minister hit back that that he was the son of a farm worker (Mngxitama interrupted to say so was he) and that we “should not subscribe to cynical view of farm workers” as being slaves with no rights. In response to the suggestion of a moratorium on evictions, the Minister said, “we have a panel of lawyers to defend these people free of charge” who could be contacted via a toll free number [Evictions Toll Free Number: 0800 007095].
Later, the DA’s Thomas Walters asked, "Will the Minister directly answer if he intends to change section 25 of the Constitution that protects individuals property rights?"
The Minister responded, “that issue was dealt with at the 2012 [Mangaung] conference. It is not a question” - implying that the Constitution would not be changed. This statement reiterated the Minister’s earlier rejection of Mngxitama’s proposal to expropriate land without compensation.
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