Wednesday, July 28, 2021
6.8 C
HomeAfricaLand expropriation and the Church's pre-emptive Land Reform Policy

Land expropriation and the Church’s pre-emptive Land Reform Policy

The Church in South Africa is clear on its stance on land expropriation and has set out a thoughtful course for progress. Mphuthumi Ntabeni walks us through the Church's deliberation process, and considers the road ahead for government as it moves to explicitly spell out the conditions in which expropriation without compensation may take place. 

On Sunday, 24 June, the National Assembly (NA) held a media briefing in regard to the submission to the Joint Constitutional Review Committee. This committee was established to review section 25 of the Constitution that deals with property rights. The Parliamentary spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, said the committee had received more than 700,000 electronic and hard copy submission forms from the public. Due to the volume of submissions, the NA was compelled to procure the services of a private service provider to help parliamentary processes to efficiently and speedily go through the submissions, Mr Mothapo revealed. There are conflicting views about whether the Constitution allows for the state to expropriate land, for public interest, without compensation. If so, under what conditions may this be done without infringing the constitutional property rights? And what must be done to ensure constitutional clarity on state power to expropriate, not just land, but all private property where the public good demands, without infringing on constitutional individual property rights. This is the nature of questions the committee needs to resolve into sound land policy constitutional law.

The NA is also embarking on public hearing visits to different provinces to fulfil the constitutional demands of consulting public opinion. Mothapo said a final draft of the report was expected to be submitted by August 3 when the committee concludes its public hearings in the provinces. The committee will then continue with its work by hearing oral submissions of those who choose to do this in Parliament, which, Mr Mathapo promised, shall be broadcasted for the public.

Roman Catholic Church Land Policy

In 1999 the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) mandated its Justice and Peace Department (J&P) to take forward an initiative which aimed at developing constructive plans and policy around the just and sustainable use of land owned by the Catholic Church in Southern Africa. Subsequently a draft land reform policy paper was drawn-up for the conference. This took into account the guiding principles of the land audit process and its recommendations regarding the sale of Church land. The recommendations were also made by representatives of all dioceses engaged in the land audit process, and by the participants in the national SACBC land consultations that were held in Durban and Johannesburg in 2004. The Land Desk of J&P has since developed a land policy framework that was adopted by the SACBC at the January plenary session of 2005.

Through the SACBC, the Church in South Africa holds it as true that, historically, land acquisition in Southern Africa begins, and coincides, with the advent of colonial domination that was characterised by the violent dispossession of land belonging to the black indigenous population. Whilst the Church did not participate in the violent acts of dispossession, she understands that she somehow benefited from this process in acquiring land.

The Church believes that the restoration of land to the black poor majority is the first imperative step towards poverty eradication and is a basic corrective against the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. She pledges to support all legal and sustainable initiatives for land reform that seek to restore the rights and dignity of all people, black and poor in particular, who were previously denied land ownership rights and to ensure that the skewed land ownership profile of South Africa is rectified.

The SACBC envisages that each land-owning structure of the Church will make land available to communities that need such land for subsistence and/or business development. They implore Catholic Church land owners to donate such land to these communities and facilitate the link between these communities and government departments and local municipalities for service delivery and development support. In addition, the bishops urge Church-based development agencies to use their resources, skills, and networks to support the development of sustainable projects for the benefit of the communities concerned.

The Church's land policy implores that vacant land owned and unused by the Church be sold below market value  to historically disadvantaged communities through the government’s land redistribution for agricultural development programme, which assists historically disadvantaged people in setting up business entities and sustaining them.  Where no community is associated with such land, it should be sold in an open market at going rates, and a significant percentage of proceeds thereof should be made available to development projects within a diocese. It also says, in the interest of transformation, that the Church must undertake preferential leasing to historically disadvantaged persons and entities of the land she owns and wishes to keep. It notes that leased land is sometimes bound by medium-to-long term contracts. However, when such contracts expire, opportunities should be given to the historically disadvantaged to own or meaningfully participate in economic development of that land.


Through the SACBC’s environmental justice programme the Church shows awareness about the care for the environment and denounces all practices that are destructive to God's creation. Her Land Reform Programme prioritises and collaborates with programmes that promote sustainable agriculture practices on Church-owned land, especially those of sustainable sustenance farming. She works to establish programmes that promote sustainable agriculture practices/organic farming among the affected communities to help in the process of rehabilitating the environment and building up the soil structures over time; in turn this leads to an increase in household food production. When these start to produce a surplus, the Church should assist communities  with business operational support.

The Catholic Church in South Africa urges the government to partner with her in forming these cooperatives, especially in poor rural areas. These will help alleviate the dire effects of widespread unemployment in our country. Not only do they support the creation of employment opportunities, but they help youth in particular to build skills, and enable ordinary rural people to participate in the economy of the country.

Monitoring and Evaluation

There is no question about the progressive nature of the Church's Land Reform Programme, and the fact that the SACBC seems to provide it with the political will and material support envisaged in the policy. The SACBC Justice & Peace Commission, responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of the programme, says the Church, since 2004, has transferred about 8 000 ha of her land since the start of her Land Reform Programme. Taking into consideration the conclusions of the Church’s Land Report – entailing only seven dioceses that were identified because they owned significant properties that were above 100 ha – there has been significant progress.

More still needs to be done, however, for instance at Mariannhill, although being the largest land owner among the SACBC dioceses within South Africa, does not form part of the seven dioceses on the Land Report because it had already begun, on its own in 1998, the process of land reformation. The inclusion of Mariannhill’s land transfer could become extremely significant. Were all commercial entities, churches, private and public institutions to follow suite, the need for expropriation without compensation would become a moot point, giving us opportunity to concentrate on land development and egalitarian economic distribution of the wealth of the country for all.


The ruling party, which held a land summit two months ago came to the conclusion that section 25 of the Constitution makes room for expropriation of property without compensation. What’s required now is just to place this in sync with the Bill of Rights, and explicitly spell out the conditions in which this may take place.

It's not yet clear how the submissions and opinions of other political parties will be accommodated in this consultation process, beyond mere superficial rhetoric. In the past, within the committees and the House, the ruling party bulldozed its will through majoritism, thus sending things into the vote before they were properly debated, and without taking into serious consideration other party’s contributions to the debate. If the finalisation of this Land Expropriation Without Compensation Bills goes that way also, then all this would have been just a gargantuan waste of resources and time.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.