Confusion reigns as to the purpose and effect of the newly gazetted Expropriation Bill, specifically in relation to its changes to section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. This article seeks to demystify the Land Expropriation Bill by unpacking its purpose, setting out its proposed changes to section 25 of the Constitution and addressing some misconceptions surrounding its application.
During 2018, the African National Congress (ANC) announced its intention to drastically speed up the land reform process in South Africa when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he would be proposing changes to section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (“the Constitution”) to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.
In essence, expropriation of land occurs when the state takes land away from its owner for public use. Where land is expropriated without compensation, the landowner is not compensated for the value of the property lost. Currently, our Constitution only allows for expropriation with compensation.
The proposed changes to the Constitution elicited much debate, as there is a rigorous process to be followed to amend a right such as section 25, which forms part of the Bill of Rights. In terms of section 74(2) of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights may only be amended by the passing of a Bill which must be approved by the supporting vote of at least two thirds of the National Assembly, as well as the supporting vote of at least six of the nine provinces of the National Council of Provinces. Once voted on, the Bill must be drafted and published in the Government Gazette allowing the public 30 days to comment thereon. Only once this 30-day period has passed may the Bill be introduced to Parliament.
Importantly, amendments to a right in the Bill of Rights may only be made where they are in line with section 1 of the Constitution and do not stray from matters directly connected to the amendment. Section 1 states that the Republic of South Africa is founded on the value of supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law. If the rights contained in the Constitution, as the supreme law of the land, were subject to constant change, its overall credibility and reliability would be in danger. The credibility and supremacy of the Constitution are pivotal, especially in light of apartheid which was enabled by the manipulation and strategic interpretation of laws.
Following the above-prescribed procedures, the ANC introduced the Land Expropriation Bill (“the Bill”) to Parliament in February 2018.
In terms of clause 7(1), an expropriating authority must serve a notice of intention to expropriate on the owner of the land and any other person who may hold a right in the property. Clause 7(2) specifies what is to be included in such notice.
There is a misconception that the Bill allows for the expropriation of land without compensation immediately and without recourse to the owner of the land or any person who has rights therein. This is incorrect. The Bill requires the landowner and the expropriating authority to negotiate and reach an agreement as to the amount of compensation payable to the landowner. Only once such an agreement of compensation payable cannot be reached, and 40 days have passed, may the expropriating authority decide whether or not to proceed with the expropriation.
Clause 12 states that the amount of compensation to be paid to a landowner must be just and equitable and reflect an equitable balance between the public interest and the interests of the landowner. Notably, clause 12(3) of the Bill states that it may be just and equitable for nil compensation to be paid to the landowner where land is expropriated in the public interest.
In sum, the Bill entitles an expropriating authority to expropriate land against a payment of compensation determined in terms of clause 12 of the Bill. This means that the compensation awarded must be just and equitable, which, where it is in the public interest, may be nil.