Land expropriation: Here's how it could be implemented, says Mantashe

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe says the Constitution must be amended to limit land ownership to 12 000 hectares per farm owner, and white farmers who own more than that should hand over the rest to the state without compensation.

Mantashe was speaking to News24 in an exclusive interview on Tuesday in Pretoria.

"You shouldn’t own more than 12 000 hectares of land and therefore if you own more, it should be taken without compensation," he said.

He is the first ANC leader to give some detail on how exactly the December conference resolution on expropriation of land without compensation could be implemented.

The party has faced criticism that eight months after the decision was taken, it has not provided details despite widespread anxiety over policy uncertainty.

Under his proposal, all white farmers who owned more than the stipulated 12 000 hectares would give over ownership of the rest of their land to the state, who would then redistribute it, prioritising successful black farmers currently working on communal land.

When asked whether white farm owners would allow the state to take their land, he said: "They will not allow you. People who are privileged never give away privilege as a matter of a gift, and that is why we say, to give you the tools, revisit the Constitution so that you have a legal tool to do it.

"The responsibility of coming on board is with us and with them," Mantashe said.

He said the party would target 83% of land in the "hands of the few" while 13% is "balkanised" for the majority.

Bank debt

He said there was "land hunger among black South Africans who are in the [former] Bantustans".

In his proposal, current successful land owners would be prioritised to be given excess land taken from white farmers.

"First preference should be people farming in those difficult conditions of communal land and [who are] relatively successful. Those should be given first preference because if you do that, you are ... [not tampering] with food production because those people, under difficult conditions, have sustained farming and food production," Mantashe said.

However, when asked about farm owners who still owed the bank, Mantashe said most of the debt is for improvement of the land and not for the actual land.

"If it's debt for improvements, that should be considered, but if it is the debt for buying land, that is a different matter. Most of the debt with the bank has nothing to do with land, it has everything to do with the improvements," he said.

Fin24 reported that if the government decided not to compensate the banks when taking land, R160bn could be wiped off their books.

The ANC announced earlier this month that it will support the amendment of the property rights clause in the Constitution to be explicit to allow expropriation of land without compensation.

"The ANC’s position is that, although the Constitution does not preclude expropriation of land without compensation, it should be amended to make this matter explicit," deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte said again on Tuesday following a National Working Committee (NWC) meeting.

However, the party is yet to say what it proposes as the new wording of Section 25 of the Constitution.

'You are giving the EFF too much credit'

Mantashe said the proposed constitutional amendment should be supported by all "rational parties" in Parliament, including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

While the ANC supported the EFF's February motion for the Constitution to be amended to allow for expropriation without compensation, the parties differ on its implementation.

The EFF wants the state to own all land and then lease it to new black owners, while the ANC wants farmers to have title deeds.

In 2017, the ANC rejected the EFF’s offer of 6% of its national vote to give it a two-thirds majority to allow for the Constitution to be amended.

The ANC has been criticised for changing its tune on amending the Constitution, with political analysts saying it is under pressure ahead of the 2019 elections, after the land debate pushed by the EFF gained traction.

Mantashe denied that the new party policy on land is influenced by pressure from the EFF ahead of the elections.

"All of you are giving the EFF too much credit, because noise and practical approach are not the same.

"We are not going to be populist, we are not going to be anarchists, we are not going to be loud mouth, but we have decided as the ANC at its conference to put the land question in the fore," he said.

Parliament recently concluded its land hearings on the motion, with an estimated 1.1 million inputs – both written and oral – received.

Agri SA weighs in

Meanwhile, Agri SA President Dan Kriek said that Mantashe's suggestion was "irrational and not carefully considered".

"A one-size-fits-all approach goes against established agriculture principle as commodities and farming practices differ in land use. Different crops or animals require different size farms to be financially feasible. A 12 000-hectare farm in the Karoo would barely be sustainable."

Kriek said Agri SA’s agrarian reform plan was in line with the National Development Plan and "will expedite transformation in the sector".

Agri SA Executive Director Omri Van Zyl said broad proposals on expropriating property without compensation could jepordise food security and increase food inflation.

"A land ceiling will cut property values. When land prices drop significantly, production credit will become prohibitively expensive. Banks will have to write off billions of rands; agriculture has an estimated R160 billion loan book."