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Yes, but what does Ramaphosa's land announcement really mean?

01 August 2018 - 08:13 By Ray Hartley
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's late night statement has provided certainty. But it also contained within it an uncertainty.

The certainty is that the ANC in Parliament will propose constitutional amendments on the expropriation of land without compensation.

Ramaphosa said: "The ANC will, through the parliamentary process, finalise a proposed amendment to the Constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected."

On the face of it, this sets the stage for the elimination of property rights when it comes to land, a momentous decision which may have major economic consequences.

Or not. Because the statement remained uncertain on under exactly which conditions expropriation might take place.

There will certainly be an amendment, but what exactly will it say?

There were clues to this uncertainty in Ramaphosa's statement.

Here is more from the statement:

A proper reading of the Constitution on the property clause enables the state to effect expropriation of land with just and equitable compensation and also expropriation without compensation in the public interest.

It has become patently clear that our people want the Constitution be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation, as demonstrated in the public hearings.

There is also a growing body of opinion, by a number of South Africans, that the constitution as it stands does not impede expropriation of land without compensation.

From this, it is clear that the party believes the existing Constitution already allows for appropriation without compensation. 

What the amendments will seek to do is to "be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation".

The question remains: Under what conditions ought the Constitution to allow such expropriation.

Yes, there has been a fundamental shift to a decision to amend the Constitution. But the detail is yet to be thrashed out.