A recent article in one of South Africa's leading Afrikaans online newspapers may have created the impression that National Assembly Public Works & Infrastructure Committee chair Nolitha Ntobongwana has dismissed as irrelevant more than 40 000 written submissions opposing the revised Expropriation Bill. However, according to a Parliamentary Monitoring Group audio recording of the meeting on Wednesday 3 February at which they were discussed, Ntobongwana and the committee’s content adviser made it abundantly clear that the process of finalising the Bill will take account of every submission, regardless of the views expressed, how they are communicated and by whom. For the journalist concerned to have reported otherwise was misleading. Hopefully, this was not deliberate – especially given the sensitivity of one matter addressed in the Bill, namely land expropriation for nil compensation.

According to an analysis of submissions on the Bill already received at the time of the meeting, most had been sent by email and are aligned with the views of one of four organisations opposing its contents for various reasons. These views are apparently articulated in documents to be found on each organisation’s website, where – in some cases – templates are available to assist anyone interested in making their own submission in support of that organisation’s position. In unpacking statistics included in last Wednesday’s presentation on the Bill, the content adviser made a point of drawing committee members’ attention to the important contribution these organisations had made in facilitating the public consultation and participation process.

He also used the opportunity to remind members of the Bill’s overarching objective, which is to provide for ‘a uniform administrative system to expropriate in the common and public good’. This was noting a tendency in many submissions opposing the Bill to focus on clauses dealing with expropriation for nil compensation – in the content adviser‘s view, blurring the line between the revised Expropriation Bill and a draft Constitution Amendment Bill still being finalised and now expected to be tabled in the National Assembly on or before 31 March. Members were assured that the revised Expropriation Bill does not seek to ‘diminish and threaten property rights’, as one organisation’s submission apparently claims.

This notwithstanding, since written submissions received at the time were not sufficiently diverse to represent the views of all South Africans, the committee decided to extend the deadline for input to 28 February. This has been advertised on social media as well as across a wide range of other media platforms with the aim of ensuring that the opportunity to comment in writing on the Bill is communicated as widely as possible. The original call for public input was apparently not advertised on social media, thus possibly escaping the notice of many young South Africans. In addition, a template available via WhatsApp is expected to make it easier for those without email access to submit their comments.