The first week of the constitutional review committee hearings into amending section 25 of the Constitution took a distinctly party-political flavour.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) shadow loomed over the land expropriation hearings in Limpopo this week as they appeared the most prepared and organised compared with the governing ANC and the opposition DA.
The series of provincial public hearings that are expected to assist Parliament in its decision to amend the Constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation to speed up land reform started on Monday in Limpopo and Northern Cape.
The EFF did not only deploy its leader Julius Malema into the committee – who is a draw card in his own right – but also had its provincial big guns and councillors attending, observing and monitoring the proceedings.
Despite claiming that the EFF’s red-clad supporters were bused in, the DA in Tzaneen and in Thohoyandou had the second-largest number of people wearing its blue party regalia.
The ANC was relatively anonymous – its local leaders on phones for long periods, frantically trying to establish whether there was a coordinated approach in place.
A white woman who opposed the proposed constitutional change and soon after walked out with a DA representative irked Malema, who loudly moaned to those sitting next to him.
“Didn’t she say she was a real estate agent,” he asked, suggesting that she was acting on behalf of a political party.
At times the proceedings seemed more like a political rally of sorts, exacerbated by chairperson Vincent Smith’s repeated reference to audience members as “maqabane” and “comrades”.
But the point of convergence for many of those who attended – whether they churned out political slogans, painted a painful picture of their living experience or complained about corruption in their local municipality – was that land expropriation without compensation should happen.
However, most DA supporters insisted the land could be expropriated without amending the Constitution. They argued that current laws provide for it, but that the ANC had failed to apply existing laws.
“Whites did not buy this land. If they did, they must produce receipts,” said one speaker.
“Expropriate first before amending the Constitution so that we can see what legal challenges we will face, then address those with an amendment,” argued another.
“Whites saw the beauty of our land and wanted it. Our chiefs died for the beauty of the land. Our queen sacrificed herself to protect the land. The landless also have a right to property,” said City Modjadji, former ANC mayor and regional leader.
Limpopo AfriForum leader Wico Swanepoel said the debate should be guided by facts and not emotions based on “a distorted version of history”. He said the ANC government started the debate to hide its failures, and land redistribution policy was racist because it was based on people’s skin colour.
“The economy will be destroyed and investors will not come to South Africa if the amendment is passed,” he said.
Limpopo EFF secretary Jossey Buthane said he was excited that on Thursday in Mokopane (Potgietersrus) a white person supported expropriation without compensation, which showed that “the debate is not a black issue but a South African issue”.
Buthane said EFF legislative members and councillors attended the hearing only to observe and many of those who attended these sessions were transported by Parliament and not the party.
“I am very happy that our people are adamant that they want land and nothing else and we are happy that it is our people leading themselves this time towards expropriation.”
He said the “enemies of change” were planting stories that support for policy changes were staged. “What makes people think that black people cannot think on their own? What makes them think that if black people can gather they must have been mobilised by somebody else. These people are coming on their own and they are demanding what belongs to them.
“If there is anything that organised the people, it is their demand for land. If there must be anybody that must be blamed it is those who took the land away from them,” Buthane said.
Smith said the committee and Parliament “will be influenced by the strength of the arguments and I am happy with the quality so far”.
“In the main, people are allowing for dissenting voices and under the circumstances I am happy with the behaviour”.
“We will take the submissions of those who disagree and those who agree. We will take that to Cape Town and combine it with written submissions. It is not about the number of people who support this or that view,” he said.