President Cyril Ramaphosa during oral replies at the National Assembly in Parliament. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS.

Cape Town - President Cyril Ramaphosa in his first Question and Answer session in the National Assembly defended a recently passed parliamentary motion on the expropriation of land without compensation.

This comes as Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton jumped into the fray, saying his country would study the possibility of fast-tracking visa applications of white South African farmers.

In response to a question by DA leader Mmusi Maimane, Ramaphosa said land was central to human existence.

“Land is about dignity, land is an asset that supports life, for millennia it has supported life and enabled the creation and the development of societies, and made economic activity possible.

“It is fundamental to the dignity and well-being of all our people. The dispossession of land, of the indigenous people of this country is therefore, what I characterise as the original sin that continues to constrain the realisation of the potential of our people.

“The return of land to those who work it, is fundamental to the transformation of our society, and it is critical if we are to improve the lives of the poor people in our country,” said Ramaphosa.

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He said the implementation of a comprehensive land reform programme should correct the historical injustices of land dispossession, by providing land to the poor in both rural and urban areas, strengthening the property rights of all South Africans and increasing the country’s agricultural production while improving food security.

“Since 1994 the democratic government has embarked on a number of interventions to advance land reform, including restitution, redistribution and tenure reform.

“While more than 3 million hectares of land was restored between 1995 and 2014, the land audit report report indicates that white people in our country still own around 72% of the farms owned by individuals, coloured people in our country own, 15%, Indians five percent and Africans- who constitute the majority of the people who live in this beautiful land- only own four percent,” said Ramaphosa.

He said South Africa had to work with urgency to significantly and sustainably accelerate the pace of land reform. Failing to do so would see the issue implode.

Ramaphosa said the expropriation of land without compensation was just one of the mechanisms government would use to accelerate land reform but this would be preceded by a process of “broad consultation”.

“This matter has been firmly placed on the national agenda and we applaud those who have come forward with views and proposals. This process of engagement presents a great opportunity for a new reinvigorated drive for meaningful and sustainable land reform,” said Ramaphosa.

He said South Africa’s constitution was a “transformational document” which prescribed how the country could be transformed.

“It is an opportunity to recognise that the property clause, in the Bill of Rights is a mandate for radical transformation. The property clause was never constructed for the purpose of retaining existing property relations in our country,” Ramaphosa said to hackles from those in the DA benches.

He said when the property clause was conceptualised, it was to change property relations in South Africa, to transfer land to citizens deprived of land through colonial and apartheid policies.

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