of South Africa's land expropriation bill currently before parliament say if
passed into law, it could be reminiscent of Zimbabwe's controversial land
seizure policy. They are also threatening court action to abolish the bill
amid fears it could further erode investor confidence and undermine the
country's international credibility. This comes after former South
African President FW De Klerk reportedly called the land expropriation bill an unconstitutional act, which
could destabilize the economy. The controversial land seizure bill aims to
accelerate a land reform program under which South Africa seeks to distribute
30 percent of its farmland to landless blacks by 2014. Spokesman Jordan Lewis
of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance tells reporter Peter Clottey
that the land bill would concentrate too much power in one minister.
"We are very, very concerned
about that, and we at the Democratic Alliance are mobilizing everything we have
against this bill. The bill is currently before parliament, and in South
Africa, every bill that goes before parliament has to go through public participation
process. But the problem is with this bill because the government knows that it
is such a controversial bill. They are sidestepping the public participation
process. And they are holding the public hearing in obscure, little known
areas. They are not advertising properly, in a clear effort to try and hamper
the amount of public objection that they actually get," Lewis pointed out.
He said the land
expropriation bill concentrates enormous powers in the hands of the substantive
minister of lands.
"Simply, the bill puts far
too much power in the hands of one person, the minister of land affairs. And
inevitably, when there is too much concentrated power in the hands of one
person, that power is going to begin to be abused. And that is what we are trying
to avoid," he said.
Lewis said under the land
bill currently before parliament, the decision of the substantive minister of
lands is final, which could not be contested in a court of law.
"For example, if the
minister decides that the land is to be seized, the minister's decision cannot
be challenged in court. So, once the decision is made, it is final, and that is
a very, very serious procedural problem with the bill. It does not give those
affected the opportunity to challenge the decision in court. We've said very
strongly that this bill is not the best to deal with the land issue in South
Africa," Lewis noted.
He said agrees with South
Africa's former President De Klerk, who described the expropriation bill as
"Absolutely, in fact our
leader Helen Zille has said exactly the same thing. The bill is patently unconstitutional, and we believe that if the
government succeeds in passing this bill in parliament, we are certain to
prepare to challenge it in a constitutional court. Also, we believe that the
bill would be devastating for the economy," he said.
Lewis denied speculation
that South Africa's land expropriation bill would be similar to Zimbabwe's
controversial land seizure policy.
"I don't like to draw
parallels with Zimbabwe, I don't think it's the same as the Zimbabwean
situation. People shouldn't panic about it that quickly. In Zimbabwe, land was
simply seized without any willing buyer-willing seller process to begin with.
This process must first follow the willing buyer-willing seller principle, and
if in the opinion of the minister that process fails, then it moves towards
land seizure. Now, our point is that we don't think you can give so much power
to the minister, but that that power should lie with the court. That a judge
and full bench is more than able to make those decisions, and that's where the
arguments and the decisions have to be made, not in the ministers office. But I
think parallels with Zimbabwe are quite premature," Lewis pointed out.