Chairman of ANC's subcommittee on socio-economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana (left), and party spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, briefs media on sidelines of party's 54th conference. Photo: Jonisayi Maromo / ANA

Johannesburg - Scuffles broke out inside a closed session of the African National Congress (ANC) conference during a tense debate on land reform, something vehemently denied by the party's spokesman who went as far as rebuking a journalist for a tweet she sent, which later, according to video on social media, turned out to be true.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa opened a media briefing by the chairman of the party's subcommittee on socio-economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, by berating journalist Qaanitah Hunter, saying her tweet that physical blows were exchanged inside the plenary hall was "mischievous and complete distortion and completely false". Kodwa went as far as implying she was trying to "damage this conference".

Godongwana, however, contradicted Kodwa saying the debate was so tense it almost collapsed the conference.

"Was the debate strong? It was strong to the extent of getting rowdy but no one was beaten in the House. It was a bit tough, rowdy and nearly collapsed the conference. No doubt about that," he said.

Read: #ANC54: Land expropriation without compensation back on agenda

"I would be misleading you if I didn't tell you [about] that but Mantashe didn't have to call security. He had step in and intervene and chair that for a moment and calm the house down," Godongwana said making reference to newly elected ANC national chairman Gwede Mantashe.

The debate ended with a decision that the ANC will forge ahead with an amendment to section 25 of the Constitution of the republic to ensure the expropriation of land without compensation happens.

Section 25 of the South African Constitution deals with property rights, and while it allows for the expropriation of land for public purpose and or in the public interest, it clearly states that landowners must be compensated by the government

Godongwana said there were conditions attached to the conference decision on expropriation without compensation, which was adopted at the party's policy conference in June. The sustainability of going ahead with it was one of these.

"What are the conditions for sustainability? Among those narrated [is] it must not impact on agricultural production, food security and other sectors of the economy."

According to Godongwana those who obtained land illegally will not be compensated.

The resolution also stated no illegal occupation of land will be tolerated.

The conference resolution will be discussed at a meeting with stakeholder, including non-governmental organisations and legal experts early next year, said Godongwana. 

It's been 23 years since democratic rule replaced white-minority apartheid rule in South Africa yet most of the country's land remains in white hands.

The lack of land reform has led to the illegal occupation of land and tensions between black and white citizens in South Africa, with the one side saying the lack of land ownership continues to demoralise and impoverish black people. On the other hand, arguments are made that land expropriation without compensation will lead to disinvestment in a country which is already experiencing tough economic times.

Last year, Parliament passed the Expropriation Bill which allowed the State to acquire land without the owner's consent by paying a price determined by the office of the Valuer-General.

However, President Jacob Zuma referred the bill back to Parliament, claiming MPs did not adequately canvass views from the public.

African News Agency/ANA