South African opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters led by Julius Malema convinced 241 of 400 members of parliament to adopt a motion that will change the Constitution to allow for the expropriation or dispossession of land without compensation, i.e. it will allow the state to take property from its owner for public use or benefit.

The amendment will be to Section 25 of the constitution known as the “property clause” which states the government must make laws and take other steps to help people or communities to get land to live on‚ and to claim back land if they lost it after 1913 and because of an apartheid law. The matter will now be referred to the constitutional review committee, which will recommend whether the property clause should be amended.

Those in favour

Opening the debate on his motion, Malema said: “The time for reconciliation is over. Now is the time for justice.” He also said during the debate that, “All our people ever wanted was their land in which their dignity is founded. Let us come together and agree on this call to expropriate land without compensation…. It [is] not unconstitutional to amend the Constitution,” he said.

The ANC, that is also in support of the motion, said that the government would be making use of all mechanisms at its disposal “in a manner that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensures that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken”.

Read: South Africa gets a second chance: Malema is worried

Rural Affairs and Land Reform Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha said the ANC was committed to building an equal society. “You should not make the mistake that we want to oppress whites,” he said. “We want to redress an historic injustice.

Those not in favour

Members of the Democratic Alliance (DA), Freedom Front Plus, Cope and the ACDP made up the 81 votes against the motion. Commenting on the motion, DA MP Thandeka Mbabama said, “Expropriation without compensation fundamentally undermines property ownership in SA. The property clause in section 25 of the Constitution states that property is not limited to land. This poses serious risks to investment in agriculture — and by extension SA — if expropriation without compensation is implemented,”

Mbabama  noted that although there was an indisputable need to right the wrongs of the past, expropriation without compensation “cannot be part of the solution”. She added that the motion was a tool to divert attention away from the ANC’s failures with land reform, and was a “lie peddled by the ANC, who fears being outflanked on the left by the EFF”.

Echoing Mbabama’s concerns Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald warned, “If you continue on this course, I can assure you there is going to be unforeseen consequences that is not in the interest of South Africa.”

“Willing buyer, willing seller” failure

It is commonplace knowledge that most of South Africa’s land remains in the hands of white people and the slow pace of land redistribution under the free-market principle of “willing buyer, willing seller” has frustrated many, who have called for the government to abandon the ineffective policy. The current policy has been criticised for perpetuating the unequal land ownership patterns.

According to research, “current estimates indicate that around 80 per cent of South African agricultural land remains in the hands of approximately 35,000 white farmers and large agribusinesses”.

Between 1994 and 2011, about 7 million hectares of land had been transferred to black owners, representing just 27 percent of the government’s target of transferring 24.5-million hectares by 2014.