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South Africa: The Politics of Expropriation Without Compensation – When Rhetoric and Reality Clash


Not many disagree with the urgent need for land reform, and the redress of apartheid and colonial dispossession. But for many, expropriation without compensation is just political manoeuvring.

Three days. Two committees. One issue – expropriation without compensation as a constitutional amendment and an Expropriation Bill.

It has taken years to get to this point when the different law-making processes coalesce. A constitutional amendment to expressly allow expropriation without compensation still needs a law of general application to give effect to such a stipulation.

This week’s public hearings showed wide-ranging agreement on the need to finally replace the apartheid Expropriation Act with a constitutionally compliant law – now in its third attempt since 2008.

Much less agreed on is the need for a constitutional amendment that “a court may, where land and any improvements thereon are expropriated for the purposes of land reform, determine that the amount of compensation is nil”, given “specific circumstances” set out in national legislation. And this is where it gets curious.

On Thursday the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development proposed to “remove the courts from involvement in policy determinations; and define ‘land reform’ so that it is not left to the courts…



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