The National Assembly's Public Works & Infrastructure Committee has apparently decided to embark upon a 'second phase' of oral submissions on the revised Expropriation Bill - the first having been held in March. This was unceremoniously announced in a parliamentary committee meeting schedule circulated on 3 September. Held in tandem with oral submissions on a draft Constitution 18th Amendment Bill that has since been revised and adopted by the ad hoc committee responsible for preparing it, the hearings in March were criticised in parliamentary circles for having put the cart before the horse. At the time, the view of some ANC MPs was that the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill process (preparing framework legislation for land expropriation with nil compensation) should be concluded before beginning a parliamentary public participation process on the revised Expropriation Bill (enabling national legislation prescribing the circumstances in which land might justifiably be expropriated with nil compensation).
Last month, the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee confirmed that it had completed provincial public hearings on the Expropriation Bill. So, observers of the legislative process might be forgiven for assuming that the next leg of public participation would be when the Bill has been passed by the House and sent to the NCOP. After all, oral presentations were heard in March on the written submissions received, with public hearings in the provinces conducted during the months that followed (interrupted when Covid-19 infection rates spiked in the Northern Cape and Free State). Logically, the next step would be for the Department of Public Works & Infrastructure to brief committee members on arguments heard and sentiments expressed during the process - and parliamentary legal advisers to flag their possible implications for finetuning the Bill.
The land-expropriation-without-compensation debate has been raging ever since February 2018, when the National Assembly tasked Parliament's Constitutional Review Committee with investigating whether such a measure might be justifiable. Six months later, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his party's support for it. The Parliamentary Monitoring Group has provided a comprehensive timeline on the Constitutional Review Committee public participation process, with links to all relevant documents and audio-visual recordings. Legalbrief Policy Watch summaries of the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill and revised Expropriation Bill parliamentary processes are available here.
There has been widespread opposition to both Bills, as clearly articulated time and again during the nearly four-year, combined public participation process. What more is there to say? Landlessness is a real concern at grassroots level. That, too, has been highlighted over and over again during the combined process - especially during provincial public hearings. Can anything be added? Has anything be overlooked?
Once the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill has been tabled in the National Assembly (which could happen this week), a special sitting is likely to be called to consider and vote on it. The outcome of that process will determine what is to be done with the revised Expropriation Bill. If the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill is passed (which requires support from two-thirds of the House), the revised Expropriation Bill will probably continue to be processed as it is. But what if the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill isn't passed? Will the revised Expropriation Bill be withdrawn and the version remitted in 2017 by former President Zuma resuscitated? Time will tell. Meanwhile, what can possibly achieved by hearing the same old arguments for and against the Bill yet again?