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No special treatment in land hearings

The Mercury
18 Jul 2018
Kuben Chetty and Kailene Pillay

CHAIRPERSON of Parliament’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee is hoping those attending public hearings on land expropriation in KwaZulu-Natal this week will be heard, and promised no political or other groupings would get preferential treatment.

Vincent Smith said people must not be afraid to speak, saying they have pleaded for tolerance in the interest of participatory democracy.

The committee has been assigned to review Section 25 of the constitution which speaks to the right of property ownership. The hearings start in Vryheid today, move to Jozini tomorrow, Pietermaritzburg on Friday and end in Kokstad on Saturday.

“Every voice must be heard. If a traditional leader speaks then those who fall under that leader must also be allowed to speak. In KwaZulu-Natal, we want people to speak as inhabitants of communal land, or managers of that land or even if they are opposed to the concept of communal land.

“None should be barred from speaking.”

Smith said at this stage the committee’s role was to listen and take notes from all the oral submissions.

“We don’t have a position until we listen to everyone.”

He said it was not important how many submissions had been made, but what was crucial was the different arguments that were being made.

“It is important that people understand that this is not a referendum.”

The committee received over 700 000 submissions prior to the hearings and Smith acknowledges that the response to the public hearings have been unexpected.

They had expected around 350 people per hearing but an average of 2 000 people have turned up for the hearings so far.

“People want to have their voices heard. We underestimated the time and venues allocated for the hearings but they carry the spirit of the constitution as they are allowing for meaningful and sufficient consultation.”

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the hearings in KwaZulu-Natal are expected to be “difficult” as land discussions have always been especially tense in the province.

He said that the dynamics of KZN were unlike other provinces as the province is at the heart of the land debate particularly in regard to tribal land, and traditional leaders were more mobilised in KZN.

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini warned of possible violence if the State tried to expropriate communal land under the Ingonyama Trust last month.

Echoing Smith’s sentiments, Mathekga said that political parties’ voices should not overcloud the voices of others.

“Lobbyists have all kinds of opportunities to communicate to parliament that ordinary citizens don’t have access to. This gathering needs to be inclusive of everyone’s voices especially those individuals who do not belong to a political party or a lobby group,” Mathekga said.