South Africa


Controversial Expropriation Bill is finally approved after navigating a 14-year rocky road

Controversial Expropriation Bill is finally approved after navigating a 14-year rocky road
The Expropriation Bill’s vote of approval in Parliament marks the end of a 16-year journey that began in 2008 to replace the apartheid-era law still on the statute books.(Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The Expropriation Bill was adopted by the National Assembly late on Wednesday evening after the opposition DA, EFF, IFP, Freedom Front Plus and African Christian Democratic Party put their objections on record.

The Expropriation Bill — democratic South Africa’s third attempt since 2008 to replace apartheid legislation still on the statute books — has been enmeshed in controversial, but ultimately stalled moves for a constitutional amendment for compensationless expropriation. 

The current legislative draft, tabled late in 2020, allows expropriation only for “public purpose” and in the “public interest”, as stipulated in section 25 of the Constitution, dubbed the property clause. But now, alongside “just and equitable compensation”, it may be possible for “nil compensation” to be considered in specified instances, such as abandoned land, state land, or land held for speculative purposes. 

And on Wednesday it remained enmeshed in controversy. 

“Expropriation is not unique to South Africa. Expropriation of property with nil compensation is not a silver bullet,” said Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille in opening the debate, adding this law now brought certainty for all. “Expropriation is only one acquisition mechanism that in appropriate cases, for public interest, will enable land reform and redress…”

expropriation bill

People erect shacks at Louiesenhof wine farm near Kayamandi on 10 August 2018 in Stellenbosch. This came two days after the shacks had been demolished by officials and Red Ants after a court interdict to remove unoccupied structures and to prevent more people from moving on to a vacant portion of the property. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The National Assembly public works committee chairperson, ANC MP Nolitha Ntobongwana, fell in line, saying this was “a progressive bill”, not only because it brought the legislation in line with the Constitution, but also because it set out the framework to redress forced land dispossession.

“This bill will allow government to address the land question and bring dignity to our people,” said Ntobongwana.

DA MP Samantha Graham-Maré disagreed, saying it was “a lie” that the draft law would facilitate land reform.

“The Expropriation Bill before us … is not a tool for land reform, but rather a mechanism for punishing private property owners using arbitrary criteria that are [neither] easily measurable nor address historical spatial disadvantage.”

The proposed DA amendments, including limiting expropriation to specific instances only for state land, were defeated in a separate division by 226 votes, against 87 for and nine abstentions.

It’s too limited, says EFF

Earlier, the EFF criticised the bill for limiting land redistribution, and leaving land mostly in current ownership hands, unless the state was prepared to pay market-related prices. 

“Do natives want land that is not used for productive purposes? Do they want state-owned land? Why is the ANC playing with people’s emotions?” asked EFF MP Mathapelo Siwisa. “We reject this bill and call on our supporters to see the ANC for what it is, a staunch defender of white landowners.” 

IFP MP Sanele Zondo said the party also rejected the bill, because of bad legal drafting and because it was “the ANC covering up its ineffective land reform”. 

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald called on De Lille to take the bill to the Constitutional Court to ensure it passes muster, particularly as property up for expropriation goes well beyond land.

“It is about power,” he said, adding the bill would have a negative effect on South Africa’s already troubled economy.

A long road to get here

Getting to Wednesday evening’s hour-long debate has been a long road. 

 The first version of the Expropriation Bill was withdrawn in 2008 when parliamentary legal advisers said it was unconstitutional for its exclusion of recourse to courts.

The next version was tabled in 2015, and passed in 2016 by Parliament, but then returned to the national legislature in 2017 by then president Jacob Zuma over concerns about an inadequate public participation process.

The legislative pipeline was stalled in the run-up to the 2017 ANC Nasrec elective conference, pending how this gathering would resolve the issue, given the push from the so-called Radical Economic Transformation grouping for compensationless expropriation.

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That was how it went in a last-minute resolution for expropriation without compensation that, however, was moderated by qualifiers that this could not undermine food security or economic activity. 

In August 2018, the ANC formally withdrew the existing expropriation draft law from Parliament, a necessity to make way for another new legislative proposal. 

The third version of the Expropriation Bill was submitted to Parliament in December 2020 — as the processes towards a constitutional amendment of section 25 were entering the final stages.

Ultimately, an eleventh-hour fall-out between the ANC and EFF over what state ownership of land actually entailed meant the constitutional amendment failed to reach the required two-thirds majority of 267 yesses in the House. The vote of 204 for and 145 against on 7 December 2021 ended an almost four-year process from early 2018 to amend section 25 of the Constitution.

Political will

All the while, amid Parliament’s unprecedented series of countrywide public hearings, compensationless expropriation emerged as shorthand for redress for land dispossession, and the public debate often sharply highlighted that all the measures needed for land reform and redistribution were in place, except for the governing ANC’s political will.

Wednesday’s debate on the Expropriation Bill showed how steeped this remains in calls for redress over land dispossession of black South Africans. Restitution and redistribution for economic activity and development also remain hot-button issues. 

However, South Africa has fallen short of its dawn of democracy target to redistribute 30% of the land. More recently, since 2020, efforts to accelerate land redistribution to emerging farmers through the 30-year lease proactive land acquisition programme seem to have fallen flat.


While 1,672 farmers were allocated 1.73 million hectares, according to a recent parliamentary reply from Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza, the programme experienced challenges from the underutilisation of the land because of a lack of money for input and operational costs, inadequate infrastructure, lack of market access for what farms produce, the inability to pay rent and for basic services like water and lights, and also land invasions by neighbouring communities.

None of these issues is necessarily new — a lack of post-settlement support was also raised at the 2018 parliamentary public hearings on whether to amend section 25 of the Constitution.

But Wednesday’s adoption of the Expropriation Bill came a day after another potential key land-related draft law — the Land Court Bill that establishes a specialist court equivalent to a high court to assist in the speedy adjudication of all land-related matters.

As labour federation Cosatu said in a statement on Wednesday, “The federation hopes this [Land Court] Bill will help alleviate the perennial delays countless land claimants, farm workers, labour tenants and their families face when lodging land restitution or farm evictions cases.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    And now the madness begins. They can now take your land, your possessions for no reason even before any court is involved. Now it’s just a matter of time before this is used by the morally bankrupt and corrupt people we call the ANC to further their nefarious activities and settle personal scores. We can only hope this will be challenged by the DA in court.

  • William Kelly says:

    And the biggest land owner of all, the State, will now acquire more of it to have rot. Plus whatever businesses it thinks it can use since ‘property’ is not limited to land only. If I were a farmer, I’d be nervous. If I were a miner, I’d be nervous. Hell, I’m nervous just being here if I’m honest about it.

  • Brandon VE says:

    Still don’t understand what land would actually be up for grabs. Wish they would give an example. Is it suburban land, farm land, or the thousands of square km of land that noone actually wants to live on in the northern and western cape. There’s no shortage of land in SA, but there’s a difference between valuable land and just land.

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      Absolutely everything and anything is theoretically game now. Anything on the property is theoretically also expropriated without compensation along with the land. On top of it, expropriation can be done immediately .I think you get a few days, but it immediately falls into state hands and only after that you can try and contest (with our court system that would mean you have to leave your own house while defending yourself). If you have a bond on it, that will immediately become your debt even though the property is not even yours to begin with. This is the true beginning of the end. Can you even begin to imagine how this could be used against anyone that the ANC has a grudge against? I can only hope the constitutional court will stop this madness.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Without compensation – worth nothing. government has no idea how quickly an owner can reduce his property to worth nothing. In one weekend a farmer can destroy the buildings, poison the vineyards or fruit trees, kill the livestock, collapse dam walls and bridges, rip up irrigation, flattennthe solar arrays, flatbed the farm equipment to auction, concrete the boreholes and basically ensure that if the ANC thinks the farm is worthless, then he will make sure that is what it is worth.

  • Mark Holgate says:

    With the ANC supporting communist totalitarianism in Russia, China and now property theft through a constitutional amendment, hopefully the west will finally see the monster they’ve hung us out to dry with. Free the Cape.

  • Colin Louw says:

    And no one has made a single meaningful comment about the potential financial sector disaster SA is now facing. The act has been so crappily designed that technically someone who has had his property stolen from underneath him is still liable for the outstanding mortgage. Now all the banks have a mandatory asset / liquidity requirement and many of the banks (if not all) have a heavy balance of mortgaged properties in that asset class. With EWC they no longer have any certainty of the value of the mortgaged land – it could be zero. OK so say just 10% of the land on which they hold mortgages is taken sans compensation, what does that do to their ratios ? Up **** Creek for sure so what can they do? Option 1 is to get the Bureaucracy to reduce the ratio required (and then there would be a drastic credit rating downgrade internationally). Option 2 is is to reduce their other liabilities i.e. their loan book which simply means calling in loans and reducing new loans. Of course all of this is way above the IQ of those in “command” and so they don’t care BUT the ramifications are scary – no loans, no investment, no investment no jobs and so on. If SA was being called a failed state before, then for sure here comes Venezuela 2.0. Maybe they expect those from whom the land has been stolen to simply keep paying off the mortgage? There goes another flying pig.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Zimbabwe 2, The sequel. A crap movie with a tragic and predictable ending.

  • R S says:

    No laws will change the fact that everything the ANC touches they turn into dust. Best we can do is protect ourselves from their insanity for as long as we can.

  • William Stucke says:

    “… efforts to accelerate land redistribution to emerging farmers through the 30-year lease proactive land acquisition programme seem to have fallen flat.”

    Of course they have. If an aspiring famer is “given” land to farm, but he doesn’t have title, he has no asset against which to raise capital and to get the money that he actually needs to grow his farming operation. Never mind the ANC Government’s wholesale failure to redistribute 30% of the land. They have condemned the recipients of the tiny proportion who have received land to inevitable failure.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    another corruption door is opened. the ANC and others greed knows no bounds!

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    It’s quite amazing that the shacks erected 1 day after they’d been bulldozed at Louisenhof are made of brand new corrugated iron. Who funded this?

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