Land: The people speak: CRC doesn't want to preempt that Constitution will be amended

The chairpersons of the Joint Constitutional Review Committee do not want to pre-empt whether Section 25 of the Constitution will be amended or not.

The committee had the last of its public hearings on Saturday, and will now begin working on their recommendations to Parliament, which will include whether the section should be amended or not. 

On Tuesday evening President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as ANC president, announced that "the ANC will, through the Parliamentary process, finalise a proposed amendment to the Constitution" to allow for expropriation without compensation.

Many speakers at the hearings urged Parliament to amend the Constitution before next years elections. Asked if this is possible, committee co-chairperson Vincent Smith said: "All we can answer is we'll take our recommendation to parliament. We don't want to pre-empt whether there will be a Constitutional amendment or not."

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Speaking to the media after Saturday's meeting in the Friends of God Church in Goodwood, in Cape Town's Northern Suburbs, Smith and his co-chairperson Lewis Nzimande expressed their satisfaction with the process.

The litigious conservative lobby group AfriForum expressed their concern about the hearings when their representatives spoke at the hearings, and at Saturday's hearing the Cape Party – who wants the "oppressed" Western Cape to secede from South Africa – called the process a sham.

After 34 public hearings and hearing thousands of South Africans, Smith is "more than satisfied" that the public consultation process on Section 25 of the Constitution will stand up to scrutiny.

"Because remember, it's not about participation, it is about consultation. And if you got more than 500 000 written submissions, that alone indicates the public knowledge of our consultation. If you look at [the public hearings], on average we had about a thousand, today we had probably more than 2000. We had 34 sittings, so it is probably 34 000 people that we have spoken to face to face, plus the about 500 000 written submissions."

"I don't think we can be challenged in terms of consultation," he said. 
Nzimande remarked that they have managed to visit rural areas, communal areas like Jozini in KwaZulu-Natal and peri-urban areas, listening to a variety of speakers.

"We think going forward, we now, significantly, got enough to take us through to the next phase," he said.

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A characteristic of the hearings was the many people in party political regalia speaking, and expressing their support of a party.

"Well, we expected it to be political because after the constitution and parliament is a political arena," said Smith.

"And we have asked political parties religious bodies and civil society organisations to mobilise. It would be unreasonable to think political parties wouldn't come in their numbers."

"Let's be frank and honest, we are on the eve of elections, so political parties will take advantage of this," he said.

"And there is no ways that we could have said to political parties: "don't come with your regalia." Because if I have said that, then I would have to say that to Afriforum- they're not neutral – and have to say that to everybody else, so no there is no panic about political parties participating." 

"We will sit as committee and it will go to Parliament ultimately and it won't be swayed by the soundbites that came out of these meetings." 

Now it is up to the committee to process more than 500 000 written submissions.

How are they going to do it?

"With great difficulty," Smith said.

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The committee got a service provider to compile an initial report.

The committee will meet in the week of August 17 to plan their programme. 

Initially, the committee's deadline to report back to Parliament was the end of August, but this has been extended to the end of September. Smith is satisfied that they will meet this deadline.

"We have no choice. September is the deadline, we are more than confident. I don’t think the committee needs more than three weeks in committee to sit and come with recommendations," he said. 

"The biggest challenge is going to be processing the 500 000 written submissions. Once that is done, two-three weeks we'll be able to come up with the recommendations. 

"September is achievable," he said.