As hearings into amending the Constitution’s property clause began in Limpopo on Wednesday, citizens had a chance to express their views on the country’s most controversial issue: expropriating land without compensation. We heard from those who have land and those who hope to get it.
Amelia Mphela, 50, sat outside the hall and went over her prepared notes: “Speaking Points for Women: Land”. She arrived at the public hearing with a group of women from Elias Motsoaledi, Limpopo, but the hall was so full and so contested they were still waiting to be heard.
“Black women remain the most marginalised sector of South Africa,” the notes began. “Black people, in particular black women, remain largely landless.”
When the women finally got the chance to address the hearing, they made their point.
“We need as many tools as possible to speed up the process of land reform. Expropriation without compensation is an extra tool that can be used to speed up the process of land reform.”
The group from Elias Motsoaledi made up a few of the hundreds of people who attended Limpopo’s first public hearing on amending Section 25 of the Constitution in Wednesday. Proponents argue that amending the Constitution’s property rights will accelerate transformation by allowing land to be expropriated without compensation.
Patricia Buthelezi, 56, sat down outside the Ebrahim Mogale Town Hall in Marble Hall to join her friend Mphela.
“Our children will inherit it and stay there and do something for their children,” she said.
“They’re going to stay freely there,” added Buthelezi.
White farmers in their area prefer to employ foreigners over locals, the women said, and they have refused to talk about sharing the land. Government-owned properties are not being used and the women fear for their children’s future.
“They are oppressed in fact, because they can’t do anything. They don’t have a word to say [in the land conversation],” said Buthelezi as the loudspeakers from the public hearing broadcast its proceedings in the background.
She and Mphela supported expropriation but said there must be a negotiation with white landowners to avoid Zimbabwe-style grabs and should allow everyone to benefit. Inside the hall, most speakers weren’t as conciliatory.
Land issues have long been at the forefront of South African politics – for communities if not politicians – and if Wednesday’s hearing was a referendum, the Constitution would be changed today and expropriation without compensation would begin tomorrow.
For those who feel let down by democracy, issues of racial inequality, economic transformation, service delivery, crime, corruption, reconciliation, unemployment, the painful past and hopeless present, crystallised into something that now seems both a tangible and attainable hope: Land.
Committee chair Vincent Smith has repeatedly emphasised that neither the public hearings, nor the hundreds of thousands of written submissions, amount to a referendum. It’s the quality of public submissions, rather than the quantity, that matters. On Wednesday the quantity of views supported the amendment and expropriation.
“This is absolutely unbearable. I’m tired of being exploited. Africans need that money. We need the land back,” said Nthabiseng Magala from the floor. She said she has nothing to show for democracy, despite the Freedom Charter saying the land belongs to all who live on it.
A resident from Elias Motsoaledi’s ward 12 said most youth are unemployed in Limpopo and the only black landowners are puppets of white farm owners.
“A stolen legacy will never expire in the hands of a thief,” repeated Lencel Komane from the NPO Mashiadika Signs of Legacy Development Project. Those who stole land in the past are still thieves, he said, and black South Africans get criminally sentenced for misdemeanours on farms while white farm owners escape justice for abuses.
A man who said he was a military veteran who fought in the struggle for democracy said, “There is no money to pay for stolen land… Whites do not disagree about giving back the land, they just have fears.”
He said he went to an area where white South Africans own land the previous night and had already determined the parcel he wanted to receive.
Malan Terblanche was one of the speakers who was jeered for opposing the amendment. Some people supported expropriation but were cautious about ensuring the process would benefit those who are in need, deserve and can use land. But those against the amendment were scoffed at and criticised by other speakers.
“Today I just had to,” said the 40-year-old farmer from nearby Groblersdal on why he addressed the public hearing. Terblanche attended with his wife Cindy, 36, and two boys, aged six and nine, both in camouflage shorts and shirts.
The couple said they bought their farm in 2008 and had put both money and sweat into making it work.
“We did not steal anything. I’ve never stolen anything in my whole life,” said Cindy, motioning towards her children, concerned for the family’s livelihood.
Terblanche argued that the current proposals are a populist political ploy and said people don’t know that the government could improve land reform within the limits of the Constitution but has failed.
“They do everything half-way.”
Corruption is rife, Cindy said, and politicians will use land to benefit the elite. She questioned what would happen to workers if expropriated farms fail. What will happen to the land? If land only goes those connected to politicians and those expecting it are neglected, what then?
“A civil war?” she asked.
Cindy added, “We all want a better life for people. I think they have to start with unused land and title deeds.”
Terblanche said the forum wasn’t truly representative of the community.
The hearings on amending the Constitution will be heard simultaneously this week in Limpopo and Northern Cape before moving to each province across the country and ending in the first week of August.
Politicians have already disagreed over the process.
During the Ebrahim Mogale hearings, Cope leader Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota claimed commission chair and ANC MP Vincent Smith was taking instruction from EFF leader Julius Malema, the star of Wednesday’s event, on how long people could speak. Malema confronted Lekota.
“You can’t tell the chair to give more time to your people than other people,” said Lekota, who left the venue as proceedings continued. On Smith, he said:
“He’s completely failed himself.”
Malema accused the Cope leader of sour grapes.
“When Terror says this process is staged, I’m saying, no, you’re wrong, Terror, it’s not staged.”
While it was the ANC’s commitment in Parliament that eventually led to the process of reviewing Section 25, it was the EFF which got them there and the party has been the most vocal on the issue. Lekota is ardently against changing the Constitution.
“He’s crying, he’s crying tears. If people want the section changed there’s nothing he can do about it,” said Malema.
Wednesday showed that almost everyone is crying over the land issue, but for vastly different reasons. DM
Additional reporting by Nkateko Mabasa
The sub-headline in this article was amended (9.05am on 28 June, 2018) to reflect correctly that it was day 2 of the hearings
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