A mockery of public consultation on the EWC issue

Anthea Jeffery says there's no way review committee can analyse all submissions before 15 Nov deadline

Parliament’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee is determined to finalise its report on expropriation without compensation (EWC) by 15 November, so that it can be debated and voted on before the end of that month.

‘No extensions anymore,’ said co-chair Lewis Nzimande earlier this month. ‘We conclude this thing end of November.’

The committee has been charged with obtaining the views of ordinary South Africans and all other interested people on ‘the necessity of...expropriating land without compensation’. It has received more than 720 000 comments on the issue, as former committee chair Vincent Smith told the press in June.

How far has the committee got with the massive task of analysing all these petitions and submissions? Late in September, MPs on the committee were astonished to learn that Parliament had engaged a staffing company, Isilumko Staffing, to sift through all these documents and analyse their content.

Moreover, when this inexpert company began presenting its analysis of the documents to the committee, MPs from across the political spectrum questioned both the quality and the credibility of its assessment. Isilumko’s poorly informed representatives were soon sent packing – and it was agreed that the committee could not outsource its vital task but must instead analyse the public’s comments for itself.

Since Isilumko’s efforts were so plainly inadequate, the committee must presumably start from scratch with its assessment of the 720 000 documents it has received. Yet the committee is also determined to finish its report by 15 November and not allow any more time for analysis.

The committee, in short, is planning to read and analyse more than 700 000 comments in the space of some six weeks, from end September to mid November. That requires it to read and assess the contents of more than 115 000 documents a week, or 23 000 every working day.

No comprehensive analysis can be done in the short time the committee has arbitrarily laid down. Which raises questions as to whether the committee has any real wish to do a proper job of weighing up all the documents it has received, most of which are reportedly opposed to EWC.

Instead, it may simply be looking to cut short the review process and make the recommendation it has been planning to embrace from the start – that EWC is indeed necessary and that the Constitution must be amended to allow this, as President Cyril Ramaphosa prematurely announced at the end of July.

Ever since the committee was appointed in February this year, ANC propaganda on the benefits of speeding up land redistribution has been relentless. Every week, sometimes every other day, Mr Ramaphosa or some other leading figure in the ANC assures the nation that ‘re-dividing the land’ will increase economic growth, improve social stability, reduce poverty and inequality, and give the poor back their dignity.

One of the most recent reassurances has come from the minister of economic development, Ebrahim Patel, who claims that EWC will be no hindrance to the government’s efforts to attract foreign investors at this week’s Investment Summit.

But what will EWC in practice do to meet Mr Ramaphosa’s promises of increased growth and prosperity, especially for the poor?

For those who want land to farm, the problems will be legion. To begin with, beneficiaries will have to lease the land expropriated by the state under the State Land Lease and Disposal Policy of 2013. Under this policy, small farmers will always be tenants of the state. Bigger farmers must lease their farms for 30 and then another 20 years, after which they may be given an option to buy. In the interim, their leases can be terminated at any time for a lack of ‘production discipline’. But production will be hard to sustain when new farmers must depend on an inept and often corrupt state for working capital and other forms of post-settlement support.

None of the key problems bedevilling land reform will be resolved by speeding up the transfer of land via EWC. These challenges, as identified by Parliament’s High Level Panel in its November 2017 report, include the absence of individual ownership, insufficient working capital, a lack of training and capacity, and ‘the diversion of the land reform budget to elites’.

The even bigger issue, moreover, is that most South Africans want jobs, rather than land, as the results of the IRR’s most recent opinion poll again confirm. But EWC will choke off most of the investment and economic growth needed to generate more employment. With the economically active population expanding every year and not enough new enterprises to absorb fresh entrants, joblessness will inevitably increase rather than diminish.

Depending on the scale of EWC, economic catastrophe of the kind evident in Venezuela and Zimbabwe could also follow. In both countries, EWC has led to hyperinflation, crippling shortages of food, medicines, and other essentials, and a surge in poverty and joblessness to levels of 80% or more. In both these states, millions of people have had little choice but to flee their homes to neighbouring countries with stronger economies. In South Africa, however, even that limited escape hatch will not be available.

The ideologues in the ANC and EFF who are driving the EWC demand care little about such practical objections. The ANC, in particular, has been planning to embark on land nationalisation for more than 50 years, and is now using the dismal state of the economy – which its own policies have helped to bring about – to push ahead with this long-standing objective.

But the committee has a mandate from Parliament to examine carefully whether EWC is needed at all. Parliament is supposed to represent the people of South Africa, not an ideologically driven ANC elite. The committee has the power to heed the hundreds of thousands of objections it has received and to report back to Parliament that the ANC/EFF plan for EWC is neither necessary nor what the majority of South Africans desire.

If the committee simply brushes aside what ordinary people have told it in the 720 000 documents they have sent in, it will also be reneging on a vital constitutional obligation to facilitate public participation in the law-making process. Its job is to ensure (in the words of the Constitutional Court) that citizens are given ‘a meaningful opportunity to be heard in the making of laws that will govern them’. It cannot simply shrug off this obligation in pursuit of an unrealistic timetable and its own preferences on the EWC issue.

Dr Anthea Jeffery is the Head of Policy Research at the IRR, a think tank which promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read, SMS your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.