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The proposed amendment of section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, to, explicitly, allow for the expropriation of property without compensation has already attracted the ire of many organisations and individuals.
The proposed amendment and the subsequent invitation to comment thereon have resulted in the ad-hoc committee being inundated with more than 200 000 written submissions, the majority of which oppose the amendment and set out the dire consequences such an amendment will unleash. The normal parliamentary procedure would be to allow organisations and individuals who made written submissions to also make oral submissions, debate the issue, and ask questions in respect of the proposed Bill.
However, the parliamentary ad-hoc committee has decided that it will not allow oral submissions from those who have already made written submissions. The chairperson of the committee defended this decision by stating that the members of the committee are literate and can read the submissions, and that the need to hear oral submissions did not arise. It seems, however, that the real motivation behind this decision is the committee’s desire to meet its deadline to conclude the process by 19 March 2021.
There are a number of obvious problems with rushing one of the most significant constitutional amendments in the history of South Africa.
The, seemingly unilateral, decision by the committee flies in the face of long-established procedures relating to the manner in which bills are to be processed, and will create a very dangerous precedent going forward. If such a crucial amendment is rushed through, with such total disregard for parliamentary norms, how much more will the ruling party simply ignore these very important norms when processing “less important” legislation? It will simply open the floodgates for further circumvention of parliamentary norms.
Another, even more alarming, consequence of this decision is the fact that government is diluting its constitutional obligation to allow public participation when legislation is being introduced or amended. The citizens of the country are the very people affected by legislation and amendments thereto. To disallow them the opportunity to provide input into decisions which directly affects their rights, is not only characteristic of a totalitarian state but also denies citizens their constitutionally entrenched rights to natural justice.
It is simply impossible to believe that the ad-hoc committee has read, considered and weighed more than 200 000 written submissions in their quest to determine the will of the people. It is becoming abundantly clear that the decision to effect the proposed amendments has already been taken by government and that the public participation process was no more than a sleight of hand.
It is obviously government’s stance that the political will of the ruling party will prevail and the citizens be damned.