Gauteng Premier’s move to expropriate private-owned land alarms SAPOA

By Suren Naidoo

The SA Property Owner’s Association (SAPOA) has raised concerns over recent comments by Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, in relation to immediate expropriation of privately owned land.

“SAPOA supports a land expropriation process where the rights of present and future landowners are balanced with the need to ensure stability and economic growth,” its CEO, Neil Gopal, said in a statement.

His comments came after recent remarks by Makhura that the Gauteng government can expropriate land without compensation with immediate effect to test the Constitution. Makhura reportedly told News24 in an interview that the province was completing an audit of all unused privately owned land and planned to test the Constitution, instead of waiting on the parliamentary process currently reviewing the property rights clause of the Constitution. Expropriated land would then be given to residents who want to use it for building houses, food production and industrialisation.

“SAPOA believes that while the historical background of land ownership needs to be addressed, it is critically important that South Africa navigates through the sensitivities with the greater vision, to ensure that the imbalance is dealt with and that the economic stability continues to be reinforced,” it reiterated in its statement.

It’s a line that SAPOA has maintained since the issue of land expropriation without compensation has come back on the table and being raised particularly fervently by the ANC and EFF.

Neil Gopal, CEO of the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA)

Gopal said: “Section 25 created the necessary compromise and balance between the protection of our economy, based on private property and free market enterprise, and the need to dramatically transform the economy following decades of oppressive laws and policies.

“There is no requirement that the State must follow a policy of a willing buyer / willing seller. Rather, Section 25 mandates the State to expropriate land to achieve land reform. Unfortunately, the State’s track record over the last 20 years in giving effect to restitution and redistribution has been poor. It adopted a willing buyer / willing seller policy when there was no need to do so. It has not used its expropriation powers to redistribute land.”

Added Gopal: “The Parliamentary High-Level Panel itself concluded that the most important constraints to effective land reform, have been corruption, the diversion of the land reform budget, lack of political will and the lack of training and capacity. These are the areas that require focus, anything less will dent investor confidence.”

In response to Makhura’s recent statements, Gopal comments: “It is inappropriate to categorise all vacant land as unproductive. Although it may, at any point in time, not be used in the most productive manner, through market forces, land would naturally be converted to a better and higher use. Speculative investors invest in land where there is a high risk and potentially high return and vacant land attracts higher rates and property owners are prepared to pay these rates because of the future potential of the land.”

The issue of land expropriation without compensation is one of the major topics at SAPOA’s Annual Convention, taking place in Durban at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre this week. Deputy Minister of Public Works, Jeremy Cronin, will be part of a panel debating the issue that includes author and commentator, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane; and, Eusebius McKaiser, a political analyst and broadcaster, who is also MC of this year’s SAPOA Convention. DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, is also one of the keynote speakers at this year’s event and is likely to also zone into SA’s land expropriation debate.

The 2018 SAPOA Convention takes place at Durban’s landmark Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre this week.

Meanwhile, in its latest statement on the issue, SAPOA reiterated its comments that South Africa must be a nation that recognises a need for land reform and that accepts that such must be done being cognisant of property rights and a need for a thriving and competitive economy.

“We understand that the country cannot afford to protect private property with such zeal that it entrenches privilege, creates further inequality and entrenches poverty. This is a recipe for instability. The guarantee of private ownership to ensure investment, in tandem with addressing the ills of the past, is fundamental to a stable democracy,” said Gopal.

“Key challenges facing South Africa is are extremely high levels of unemployment, structural poverty and inequality, and the question we need to address is how we resolve these critical issues through the process of land reform. There is no doubt that we need to urgently reverse the racial inequalities in land resulting from our colonial past and the violent dispossession of indigenous people off their land. But we need more clarity and debate on the factors responsible for the slow pace of land reform, and we welcome engagement with the Constitutional Review Committee on these matters.” he adds.