"Land panel affirms property rights," declared Business Day last week on its story about the Final Report of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture. This positive spin was echoed by other newspapers, among them the London Financial Times. Is their interpretation justified?
The panel's report, made public last week, does indeed argue that expropriation without compensation (EWC) should take place only in "exceptional circumstances". It lists ten instances where "nil" compensation would be justified. These include abandoned land, land obtained through criminal activity, and inner-city buildings with absentee landlords.
But the panel also states that "nil" compensation is not limited to this list. Elsewhere in the report, it states that owners of properties needed for "redistribution" may offer their land as donations or enter into negotiations with the state, "failing which the state may proceed to expropriate". Each municipality should identify which land should be redistributed.
Restoration of land to its "aboriginal owners must be speeded up and not complicated by placing obstacles on the way". Nor is it "fair" on society when individual property owners seek the protection of the Constitution without understanding their land reform responsibilities.
Among those expected to donate land are churches, whose missionaries played a "covert" and strategic role in the "dispossession and impoverishment of the African people". The panel also favours the imposition of "land ceilings". Agricultural land in excess of these ceilings should be "compulsorily" acquired by the state or "punitively taxed".
Without citing evidence for its assertion, the panel states that the Office of the Valuer-General (OVG) has "narrowly" determined value in terms of market value alone. This, the panel says, defeats the very purpose for which that office was established. To bring the functions of the OVG into line with its proposed compensation policy, the panel wants its role to be reviewed so that expropriation for land reform is "just and equitable" rather than "purely market value-based".