Illegal land grabs could intensify ahead of elections, warn police

20 March 2019 - 10:45
An area in Blue Hills, Gauteng, where land grabs took place on March 17 2018.
Image: Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath An area in Blue Hills, Gauteng, where land grabs took place on March 17 2018.

The SA Police Service (SAPS) says the debate on expropriation of land without compensation has led to an increase in incidents of illegal occupation of property, and this could worsen in the lead-up to the May 8 elections.

Land invasions and related protests have escalated sharply across SA recently. According to figures published by the City of Cape Town in 2018, the metro saw a 53% increase in land invasions. Protests relating to land in Cape Town increased by 249% in the 2017/2018 financial year.

Amid debate on the issue in 2018, EFF leader Julius Malema called on people to occupy vacant land. In December, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces adopted a contentious report that called for a constitutional amendment to make it explicit that expropriation without compensation be used as a means to address historically skewed land-ownership patterns.  

Last week, parliament’s ad hoc committee tasked with amending section 25 of the constitution, the property clause, confirmed that the proposed legislative changes would be finalised after the elections. This means the amendment might not be passed if the ANC and EFF fail to secure a two-thirds majority between them.

The expropriation debate has polarised the country and spooked investors, with the proposed amendment set to be challenged in court by various stakeholders and political parties.

Briefing members of parliament’s police portfolio committee on safety and security about the force’s plans for the elections, deputy national commissioner Lt-Gen Sehlahle Masemola said the police have identified several threats in the lead-up to the polls. These include illegal land occupations, protests and intimidation, especially of Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) staff.

“The debate surrounding land and the expropriation thereof without compensation has continued to impact on incidents of the illegal occupation of land or statements calling for such action. Community protest actions are evident in all provinces, with the most incidents reported in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Western Cape and North West,” said Masemola.

Election security will be managed through joint structures at national, provincial, district/cluster and local levels to contribute towards creating conditions for free and fair elections, said Masemola. There are a total of 22,925 voting stations countrywide.