Cape Town-180822-President Cyril Ramaphosa answering questions from the members of Parliament about the land distribution in Parliament.photograph:Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

PARLIAMENT - President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday suggested the heated debate on land expropriation had run its course and opponents of the policy should accept it as the only way to prevent South Africa from sliding into political instability.

"This thing is very important.... If you don't want stability then don't transform," Ramaphosa told the National Assembly in response to a supplementary question from Pieter Groenewald from the Freedom Front Plus.

Groenewald put it to the president that South African land owners had a greater need still than foreign investors for certainty on the African National Congress (ANC) government's stated plans to change the constitution to enable or give clarity on expropriation without compensation.

Groenewald added a threat: "I have a message to you, honourable President from other farmers: They will not give up their land willingly."

Ramaphosa countered with an implied threat that resistance to land reform, or failure to implement it, would lead to turmoil. 

"Those who want to hold on may find they hold on to something that does not exist anymore."

He said the wounds of dispossession through white oppression continued to fester and those who did not have land, had an equal need for certainty.

The topic dominated presidential question time in the chamber, with Ramaphosa signalling in response to questions from the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that the government was determined to amend section 25 of the Constitution to clearly define the circumstances in which expropriation without compensation was allowed and to apply it to rural and urban land. 

He said some scholars argued that the Constitution already made implicit provision for there was a need for clarity, adding that government simply did not have the money to acquire land on a large scale and if it proceeded on the current willing seller, willing buyer principle it would take up to a century to return land to those who lost it under apartheid.  

"The proposal is meant to make explicit what is currently implicit in the constitution."

Privately owned urban land held for speculative purposes or lying fallow, should be identified with a view to expropriation and unused urban land that owned by local or national government or parastatals should be "identified, serviced and released to our people" to allow people to live and own property close to job opportunities.

"Our new development is that we should move our people close to economic opportunities. The measures we should take include expropriation. Some of it is held for specific reasons, some of it is just lying fallow and we are saying our entities must examine that and on an informed basis we should be able to determine how to deal with land like that."

He said the measures would be implemented "in an orderly fashion and in accordance with our constitution", so that the redistribution of farm land did not threaten food security.

EFF leader Julius Malema asked if Ramaphosa equally accepted his party's view that the state should be the custodian of all land, including private property in leafy suburbs, because giving the poor title deeds posed the risk that they would soon sell to make money.

Ramaphosa said he believed there was little risk of this happening.

"That is a false fear, I am afraid because our people who have had title deeds become so proud that finally they own something... We must not frustrate this yearning that our people have to own the land."

Ramaphosa raised a political storm by announcing last month that the ANC would push ahead with plans to amend section 25, earning accusations that he had pre-empted the processing of public submissions on the subject.

He said his statement was not meant to undermine the public or legislative process but had brought much-needed clarity.

"Many people on hearing the proposal said we are grateful that we can now have certainty on how this debate on land is going to play out. The lack of clarity has been debilitating. 

"Those who have been terrified and afraid must know that this matter is now going to sink in the mind and consciousness of our nation.
There is growing agreement that the release of land and the expropriation of land is becoming more and more accepted and we now need to move forward."

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African News Agency (ANA)