Government needs to move fast to allay fears that its new expropriation legislation will not be used to justify Zimbabwe-style land grabs.
That's the call from Berry Everitt, MD of the Chas Everitt International property group, who says: "I have no wish to be alarmist, but the Expropriation Bill, which was due to be enacted last month but has been withdrawn by Parliament's legal advisers, definitely does ring some warning bells."
There are four major problems with the Bill, he says, the first being that it provides for property to be expropriated "in the public interest" rather than for a specific "public purpose" such as a road, a dam or a school, which was previously the case.
The second problem is that the new legislation would work on an "expropriation first, arguments later" basis, giving property owners who wished to contest an expropriation no option but to fight a costly rearguard action through the courts - quite possibly after they had already had to leave their property and accept whatever compensation the State was willing to offer.
"Thirdly, the new legislation would remove the power of the courts to decide whether the time and manner of the expropriation or the amount of compensation paid was fair. They would only be allowed to decide if the expropriation had been in the public interest or not - and given that the legal process is slow, that decision could come months or even years after the event," says Everitt.
And fourth, he says, the Bill provides for the "market value" offered by the State for an expropriated property to be determined solely by the expropriator, without reference to the property owner, a valuer or any other independent consultant.
"In short, if the Bill were to be passed it would put the rights of the State ahead of those of the individual, which are supposed to be protected by our Constitution. The security of property ownership would effectively be subject to the whim of government officials.
"What is more, many people are worried that the term 'property' in the legislation could be interpreted to mean anything material, including mines, businesses and urban buildings as well as farmland. This would obviously be very discouraging for the international companies and foreign investors that SA is trying so hard to attract.
"And coming now on top of rising interest rates, the rocketing cost of living, the energy crisis and high crime, this legislation might just prove to be the last straw for anxious SA consumers. It is likely to evoke very strong responses that could quite easily cause even more people to emigrate - and take with them the skills this country urgently needs.
"So we believe government should to take the opportunity before the Bill is passed to openly address the fears that have been voiced and clearly explain what it hopes to achieve through this legislation."
ISSUED BY CHAS EVERITT INTERNATIONAL