File Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)

PARLIAMENT - The recently concluded parliamentary public hearings into whether the property clause in the Constitution needed amending laid bare the emotions and tensions associated with the slow pace of land reform in South Africa. 

Following weeks of extensive public hearings across all nine provinces, Parliament's Constitutional Review Committee invited those who made written submissions to brief members of Parliament (MPs) on their views on whether Section 25 of the country's founding document needed a rewording to allow for expropriation without compensation.

The hearings were not just being watched domestically by landless black South Africans who demand reparation for being deprived of their land through the brutal race-based apartheid system and those who fear their land will be seized without compensation, but internationally as well. 

At least two world leaders have weighted in -- Donald Trump, via a tweet in which he said he would ask his secretary of state to "closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers” and British Prime Minister Theresa May, who said Britain would support the expropriation of land without compensation on condition that is was done legally.

Organised agriculture, unions, the banking sector, Afrikaner rights groups, churches, academics, and many others came to Parliament this week. 

Many argued a constitutional amendment was unnecessary as provision was already made for expropriation without compensation, others argued that a middle-ground needed to be found. The ideas of the far-right and the far-left were also heard, causing bitter arguments and censure from MPs.

None of the submissions angered MPs more than that Ernst Roets from Afrikaner rights group, AfriForum, who dared to assert his notion that the "biggest historic fallacy is that whites stole the land". This is the same AfriForum which has been lobbying governments and rights groups against government's land reform agenda.

Roets went further, attacking MPs from the African National Congress (ANC) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) -- the biggest proponents of expropriating land without compensation.

"Yes, you are drunk on ideology. The ideology of the obviously failing national democratic revolution. You are drunk on power since every decision you make is an attempt to gather more power and control into your hands. You are drunk on hatred and contempt, not only for white people but the poorest South Africans who suffer under your policies daily and will suffer even more if you continue to destroy the economy and to sow hatred and division."

Roets' tirade saw MPs calling him a "disgrace" and an "embarrassment", with condemnation for his comments coming from across the political divide.

EFF MP Tebogo Mokwele ripped into him, 

"Maybe your grandfather and your great-grandfather and your father didn't tell you what they did to our fathers and our grandfathers  and our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers. That is why you come here with that tendency of even undermining us, telling us we are delinquent, we are mad, that is why you come here with your whiteness and undermine that your grandfathers took our land and they murdered our people..."

"...let me tell you my brother from another mother, we are going to take our land whether you like it or not."

An ANC MP suggested Afriforum was the opposite extreme of Black First Land First (BLF) who made their presentation on Wednesday.

BLF leader Andile Mngxitama also baited MPs calling the parliamentary process a sham aimed at garnering votes before next year's general elections. 

He proposed that section 25 be completely scrapped and replaced with a section declaring all land owned by white people as stolen property.

“BLF supports the call to amend section 25 of the Constitution so all land in the hands of white people is returned to the hands of black people, that includes amending section 25 of the Constitution so all land in hands of white people is returned to hands of black people. That includes land in Orania, land in Stellenbosch….,” he said.

“We are going to take back this land by force because it belongs to us.”

Mngxitama also took aim  at the Constitution, declaring himself a “proud Constitutional delinquent” and inferring that the founding document protected white people at the expense of the black majority. 

As he walked out of the hearings, he asked MPs why they were listening to Afrikaners making submissions. Tense exchanges between his delegation and MPs ensued before he was asked to leave. 

Academics called for a more measured approach, saying section 25 already empowered government to expropriate land without compensation where justified, insisting that a lack of political will and a failure of implementation was to blame for the slow pace of land reform. They argue for improved legislation and a want a more comprehensive and practical land reform model.

Farming unions said they were not opposed to expropriation but insisted it needed to be accompanied by fair compensation, something MPs appeared opposed to as government had depleted much of its budget for land restitution when farmers demanded market-related prices for land.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) supported an amendment specifically for land that was taken from blacks through apartheid race-based policies, but said it wanted the working class protected and given fair compensation if they are deprived of land that's earmarked for public infrastructure.

Cosatu parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks came under some fire as the EFF objected to a white man presenting on behalf of a union that represents mostly black workers -- further evidence of the racially charged nature of the land reform debate.

MPs hit out at organised business and the banking sector on Friday for using "scare tactics" to put their point across after Nedbank chief executive Mike Brown claimed land expropriation without compensation could "trigger classical banking crisis".

"Every bonded property that is expropriated without compensation is likely to result in a direct impairment of that land on the balance sheet of a lending bank," Brown said.

"As a bank we would be left with few options in order to protect our capital and depositors. Maintaining confidence in the banking system is absolutely imperative for depositors to feel that their money is safe."

After the marathon public hearings in Parliament and across the length and breadth of South Africa MPs will have to start the arduous task of compiling a report, which won't be an easy feat given the hundreds of thousands of written submissions they will also have to wade through.

MPs will be under pressure to conclude their final report, due to be submitted to the National Assembly by September 28 for tabling.

Committee chairman Lewis Nzimande described the process as the most extensive he's ever been involved in.

"There's a trip the airlines are advertising - the six continent trip. It seem like we've been on that flight," he said.

Despite the extensive travelling, reading, listening, debating and tense nature of the hearings, Nzimande said it was well worth it, adding the land reform debate was long overdue and despite the topic being an emotional one, it was necessary to ensure the country comes up with a solution to the land hunger among the poor and working class.

African News Agency (ANA)