South Africa’s shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, held a mass rally in Durban on February 24, to hand over its submissions regarding the proposed amendment to Section 25 of the country’s constitution which deals with land appropriation. The amendment seeks to make an explicit provision in the constitution to allow the state to appropriate land without compensation under specific circumstances, in order to speed up the process of unfinished land reforms.
While supporting the amendment, Abahlali baseMjondolo has nevertheless expressed serious concerns about the top-down approach the government has taken, which, it fears, will only result in transfer of land from white elites to Black elites, while doing little to address the land needs of the poor.
The grassroots movement which, since 2005, has been occupying unused land in urban areas to house the poor in shacks built by its members without government assistance, also said in a statement: “We . . . do not agree that the state must own the land on behalf of the people because the state itself in its current form cannot be trusted. Land must be distributed to the people, and managed, on a democratic basis, from below.”
Under enormous pressure from land-hungry masses of the world’s most unequal country, a faction of the ruling ANC, which has been fast losing its popular support base due to anti-poor policies, has been considering such an amendment for many months now. On December 6 year, the Parliament’s Ad Hoc Committee published a draft of the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill, and opened it for public comments.
The purpose of this bill, the draft states, is to “amend the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, so as to provide that where land and any improvements thereon are expropriated for the purposes of land reform, the amount of compensation payable may be nil”.
In order to achieve this purpose, the draft proposes two additions to Section 25. Paragraph 2 of this section states that land can be expropriated only for public interest and “subject to compensation” determined by an approved court.
The proposed addition to this paragraph states that “a court may, where land and any improvements thereon are expropriated for the purposes of land reform, determine that the amount of compensation is nil.”
A further addition is made to the third paragraph which sets out the factors based on which the compensation has to be determined, stating that a “National legislation must . . . set out specific circumstances where a court may determine that the amount of compensation is nil.”
Expressing its support for the legislation, Abahlali said in its statement that the “Section 25 in its current form has been one of the drivers behind the inequalities, impoverishment and unemployment that has terrorized this country.”
“However,” the statement cautions, “this support is not in any way to agree with what many politicians and parties are proposing. The preamble should explicitly make land a ‘right’ to be enjoyed by all and not property that may be bought and sold. We note, also, that Section 26 of the Constitution guarantees the right to Housing however, that right becomes impossible without the right to land. These proposals must apply to all land both in urban and rural areas, and to residential, agriculture and commercial land.”
Abahlali also demands that “if a new law is passed, it must also make all evictions illegal, commit the state to supporting land occupations with the development of infrastructure and abolish all the armed units set up in the big cities . . . to attack land occupations.
Since its formation in 2005, the movement has been repeatedly subjected to such armed attacks on its members on occupied lands. At least eighteen of its members have been killed while attempting to resist such attacks on the right to urban housing for the poor.
“Those who claim to be custodians of our laws have been implicated in the murders of our comrades. Two ANC councilors have been found guilty of the murder of one of our leaders by a court of law and are serving life imprisonment,” Abahlali’s statement read.
“This is another reason why we want our communities to have direct and collective ownership of land, and to be able to manage land through their own democratic structures,” the statement adds, arguing, “We cannot trust the ANC, or any of the political parties in parliament, to ensure that land is distributed to the people on a fair and democratic basis.”
While making its submission, which was received by Mathole Motshekga, the chairperson of the ad-hoc committee, Abahlali nevertheless indicated that this struggle for housing rights of the poor is not something that can be won in parliament, but a challenge that has to be fought for on the streets.
“We are also aware that this struggle will not end here today, or in parliament, but in people’s day to day struggles and realities. This may mean that, Section 25 or no Section 25, the “people shall govern.’’