The new Expropriation Bill is not intended to pave the way for a frenzy of land claims by the state, South African Deputy Public Works minister Jeremy Cronin said this week.
He said its passage, envisioned for the third quarter of the year, would standardise expropriation processes that flowed from up to 200 pieces of enabling legislation.
“It is meant to be a general law of application,” he told parliament’s portfolio committee on public works.
“This is not about empowering the state to go out and expropriate more wildly and more effectively than ever before.”
The government wanted to ensure expropriation achieved its objectives in the public interest in a just and equitable way.
He said it was heartening that AgriSA had deemed the draft law constitutional.
There appeared to be consensus that the Bill did not pit the state against “ordinary citizens now facing a kind of orgy of expropriation”.
Cronin said the new draft legislation did not allow the state to “wake up and decide we want this farm and that farm”.
The Bill entrenched two potentially fraught but constitutionally enshrined concepts. First, it declined to define property narrowly and thereby confining claims to land.
Giving the anodyne example of a vehicle commandeered for a war effort, Cronin said “by and large we are looking at landed property”, but it was thought unwise to let the law rule out any other kind of property.
Second, the Bill allowed expropriation for public interest, but had reverted to the definition set out in the Constitution after an earlier definition — which stretched it to “reforms to bring about equitable access to all South Africa’s natural resources” and redress the impact of past racial discrimination — was criticised as being too wide.
Cronin told reporters the state was obliged to motivate why a particular property would serve the public interest. This was open to challenge up to the highest court.
The Democratic Alliance said the definition of property was as wide as to mean anything of economic value. The Bill risked undermining the importance of secure property rights, though this was recognised in the National Development Plan.
An earlier draft of the Bill was withdrawn in 2008 amid concerns it was ripe for constitutional challenge because it prohibited expropriated parties from challenging the value offered for their property in court.
That provision had been excised. The new version would be sent back to cabinet once the public comment process had concluded, and then be tabled in Parliament.