Public hearings show support for land expropriation: South Africa parliament

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africans overwhelmingly support changing the constitution to allow land to be expropriated without compensation, parliament said on Thursday, announcing the findings of a draft report that followed public hearings on the issue.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress has made the acceleration of land redistribution a key issue ahead of 2019 elections, unnerving investors despite pledges to do so in a way that does not threaten food security or growth.

Most private land remains in the hands of the white minority more than two decades after apartheid’s demise, making it a vivid symbol of wider disparities.

“According to the draft report, there was overwhelming support in the public hearings for a constitutional amendment on expropriation of land without compensation,” parliament’s press office said in a statement.

“It further states that those opposed to a constitutional amendment argued that the rejection of expropriation without compensation did not mean that (they) did not support land reform,” it said.

Public hearings on land redistribution were held earlier this year across South Africa, attracting large crowds and often emotional testimony. Written submissions from the public were a different matter, with 65 percent opposing the change, 34 percent in favor and 1 percent undecided.

Parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee on the issue began its consideration of the draft report on Thursday. It did not say when it would conclude its review.

Ramaphosa has also appointed a panel of experts to advise him on land reform. The panel is expected to make recommendations to the president in March next year.

South Africa’s sovereign rating risks being downgraded due to concerns about the lack of clarity around land expropriation, a senior S&P Global Ratings analyst said earlier this week, underscoring investor concerns about the matter.

Attempts to redistribute land from whites to blacks since the end of apartheid in 1994 have often failed. The ruling ANC faces an election challenge next year from a far left party saying all land must be nationalized.

Editing by James Macharia