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Cronin: Zim-style land grabs would be disastrous for SA

Sep 29 2016 13:00
Carin Smith

Stellenbosch – South Africa cannot afford to have a property expropriation situation similar to that of Zimbabwe as that would be disastrous, Deputy Minister of Public Works Jeremy Cronin said on Thursday.

He was addressing the controversy surrounding government’s expropriation bill at a property conference presented by Rode & Associates at the Spier Estate outside Stellenbosch.

“We cannot have Zimbabwe-style land seizures in SA,” said Cronin.

“We cannot have disrespect for property in SA. We have to respect the rule of law, the constitution and property rights, but at the same time we cannot use that in order not to address inequality in the country.”

He emphasised that the new expropriation bill wants to provide a guideline and framework for expropriation in SA.

“The bill is trying to create a balance between rights, the rule of law and property rights on the one hand, while we cannot just continue to sit with this huge inequality in the country on the other hand,” said Cronin.

“The heart of the current bill is to promote administrative justice, and outlaw administrative arbitrariness on the part of government. The current bill we are busy with wants to lay out an administrative process so that if the courts then find this process was not adhered to, they can declare an expropriation invalid.”

Cronin emphasised that the expropriation bill aims for consistency regarding the constitution and uniform procedures for all expropriations, without interfering with the powers of the expropriation authorities.

“Currently questions do not relate so much to the content of the bill, but rather about the process when it went through the National Council of Provinces where it was maybe a bit hurried,” said Cronin.

“So we feel that maybe the bill should be brought back to the Council of Provinces just to be sure, but no one knows what President Jacob Zuma will decide to do (on) this or (whether he will) sign the current bill.”

The issue of compensation is one of the main concerns around the bill. Cronin pointed out that market value is regarded as just one aspect to consider in this regard.

“While market value might be a starting point in an evaluation, it is not ‘prime among equals’. There is also no reason why compensation could not be more than the market value,” explained Cronin.

“Furthermore, the public interest consideration must also be understood to include ensuring that there is no squandering on exorbitant pay-outs by government.”

Neither devil nor silver bullet

He said the expropriation bill is neither the “devil” some claim it to be, but nor is it a “silver bullet” for racial equality in SA.

“I think in general the willing buyer, willing seller is the best route to travel, but unless there is a clear process, government can get ‘stuck’ in the process,” said Cronin.

He also pointed out that expropriation can take place before the compensation amount has been settled. One cannot, therefore, delay an expropriation on this ground.

“I think the bill is a relatively good policy in bad times and I hope we are not sending the message out to the rest of the world that it is ‘another disaster’. It is not above criticism, but we are making relatively good legislation and policy,” he concluded.

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