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SACP has long called for land expropriation

The Communist Party became the political organisation to put forward expropriation as a policy for restoration or restitution of land, says the writer. Picture: Reuters

The Communist Party became the political organisation to put forward expropriation as a policy for restoration or restitution of land, says the writer. Picture: Reuters

Published Apr 10, 2021


Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the South African Communist Party (SACP) as the Communist Party of South Africa at the inaugural congress of the Party held from July 30 to August 1, 1921. The Party’s founding resolution was passed on the first day of the congress, July 30, 1921.

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The Communist Party became the first political organisation to be banned by the apartheid regime in 1950, shortly after it came to power after a racist “general election” in 1948, under an Act dedicated to abolishing not just the Party but any communist thinking and activity in South Africa.

In the face of the ban, the Party adopted a tactical resolution to “dissolve itself” and immediately thereafter formed units in major centres of South Africa to reorganise itself underground to continue the struggle for democracy and freedom — which can only be possible entirely for the first time under a socialist transition and fully realised under a communist social formation of a society where classes, class antagonism and all institutions and processes of any form of class rule, domination and oppression are eliminated.

Why is this important to bear in mind, especially when looking at the land question or the historical problem of land in South Africa?

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Because, contrary to the claims advanced among others by political groupings created after 1994, but as well as some which were created before then, the Communist Party, long ago, became the first political organisation in South Africa to put forward expropriation as a policy for restoration or restitution of land to the colonially expropriated people of South Africa, as well as security of tenure and land redistribution to those who work it.

Again, post-1994, the Communist Party became the first to organise a massive campaign against the notion of “willing buyer, willing seller”. It was this campaign that led to the national land summit held in the mid-2000s.

On December 30, 1924, the Communist Party at its annual conference adopted a programme that placed the land question at the centre of the struggle. The programme put forward “Expropriation of big estates in favour of the landless rural population” and “Provision of vastly increased areas of land for” the African people.

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Five years later at its annual conference, on January 1, 1929, the Communist Party advanced as its programme the strategic theme “The land for the landless, expropriation of the expropriators, restoration of the land of South Africa to the land workers and poor peasants, consisting chiefly of “black people” but also “poor whites”.

The Communists adopted this approach against the background of it having become the first political organisation in South Africa to call for the transformation of the country to become a democratic republic with equal rights for all regardless of race and gender.

In its programme adopted on January 1, 1929, long before all parties that exist today in South Africa, except the African National Congress, the Communist Party pushed as the way forward the “Expropriation of big estates, large farms and land held by big trusts or companies and all land lying idle, and throwing open of Crown Land, for redistribution among landless squatters, poor peasants and labourers, black and white”.

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Fast forward to the 1940s, in January 1944, the Communist Party, at its national conference, adopted a programme pushing “Taxation of land values and expropriation by the State of land which is held for speculative purposes” as an economic policy measure.

Under agricultural transformation, the programme called for “Redivision of the land so as to ensure equitable distribution among poor farmers and landless agricultural labourers”; “The fullest utilisation of the land so as to increase the food supply of the people. The prevention of the system of allowing large tracts of land to lie idle for speculative purposes”; A plan—financed by the State—to combat soil erosion”; “Relief of small farmers from the burden of debt”; “The introduction of collective farming into the (rural areas) and the extension of transport, marketing facilities and irrigation schemes”; and “The ending of monopolies which control the marketing of food. The ending of export subsidies and the distribution of cheap food to the people”.

Having called for what we today call the National Health Insurance — “A State medical service for all”, under social services the programme also called for “Housing for all”, and, again, “Expropriation where vested interests stand in the way of slum clearance”.

If one carefully reads the text of the expropriation resolution adopted by the ANC at their 54th National Conference held in December 2017 in Nasrec, Johannesburg, especially its proviso that expropriation (“without compensation”) should not disrupt or break food security (in other words, that it must lead to increased food security), it is easy to locate it in the strategic perspective articulated above.

The Communist Party did not see the need to use the phrase “without compensation”, placed in brackets above. Why? Because expropriation both inherently and originally differs from buying and is therefore not an exchange relation.

Having said that, it is important to note that post-1994 our Constitution included the compensation, but it gave it context. Contrary to what neo-liberals have pushed, Section 25 of the Constitution provides for the state to deprive a person of property but only in terms of law of general application and provided that is not arbitrary.

The Constitution further provides for expropriation of property, again in terms of law of general application, but “for a public purpose or in the public interest”. Compensation is conditional, in terms of the Constitution. Its amount, time and manner of payment must be just and equitable, reflecting equitable balance between those affected and the public interest. Others misinterpret this provision to exclude the public interest.

Furthermore, the amount of the compensation should be determined taking into account the sheer ownership interests of those affected but also the current use of the property—and perhaps most important, the history of its acquisition—as well as direct state involvement or investment and subsidy in its acquisition, and the improvements, if any at all, made on the property. Market fundamentalists and those misled by the dominance of their rhetoric misinterpret this provision to elevate the market value of the property as if it were Alpha and the Omega in deciding the way forward.

These circumstances all considered, the actual amount of compensation can be zero—but this requires an Act of Parliament, law general application, to make clear in terms of its circumstances and procedures. Relating to this, it is crucial to appreciate that the Constitution expressly states that public interest “includes the nation’s commitment to land reform, and to reforms to bring about equitable access to all South Africa’s natural resources”.

Flowing from the above, the Constitution gives the state the power to take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to foster conditions that enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis. It also calls for security of tenure of land, which it requires the state to ensure through an Act of Parliament.

Providing for land restitution, as well as land redistribution, the Constitution concludes by stating categorically that none of its provisions—which include the conditions relating to compensation in sections 25—“may impede the state from taking legislative and other measures to achieve land, water and related reform, in order to redress the results of past racial discrimination, provided that any departure from the provisions of this section is in accordance with the provisions” on the limitation rights provided for in its Section 36.

In terms of this conclusion, the Constitution called upon the Parliament to “enact”—as a matter of “must”—the law of general application, the legislation, to enable expropriation, land distribution, and the other law referred to in its section 25.

The Political Report presented to the augmented SACP Central Committee held from March 19-21, 2021 by the General Secretary Dr Blade Nzimande calls for a comprehensive evaluation of the role of Parliament, beyond holding the executive to account, going back to the 1994 democratic transition.

This should cover, in the humble opinion of the author, the failure of Parliament by distinction in the last 27 years of our democratic dispensation to pass the laws required in terms of our Constitution to ensure equitable access to land through redistribution and to water and all South Africa’s natural resources.

This failure is, arguably, one reason why “post-apartheid” South Africa has failed to advance structural economic transformation, going to the root of our economic problems. The process currently underway to adopt an Act of Parliament enabling expropriation, especially with zero compensation, must be concluded as a matter of priority.

The Constitution calls for other laws that must be adopted. Some of those laws, like in the case of land, are yet to be adopted— if the Constitution is thoroughly perused. Again, there are laws that have been passed, but which require regulations. Some of those have not been passed.

* Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo, SACP Central Committee member for Media and Communications

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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