Opponents 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 unconstitutional.
"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.