PRETORIA–Ordinary South Africans will be at the centre of the process to review and, if necessary, amend the Constitution to provide land expropriation without compensation.

Parliament’s constitutional review committee which was given the task of reviewing and possibly amending section 25 of the Constitution will go on a countrywide roadshow starting in May to solicit the views of ordinary South Africans on the proposed changes.

This follows the adoption of an Economic Freedom Fighters and ANC motion for the expropriation of land without pay by the National Assembly 12 days ago, and by the national council of Provinces (NCOP) this past week.

The adoption of the motion does not mean the amendment of the Constitution is a fait accompli.

Committee co-chairperson Vincent Smith (ANC) said this week the committee was under pressure to start the work.

It had initially planned to meet this (coming) week but the NCOP is on oversight in the Eastern Cape.

The committee will have its first meeting on March 20 to draft and possibly adopt the land expropriation programme, which will need to be costed, as the process will be a significant departure from the joint committee’s normal operations.

At that meeting, Smith will propose the committee visits all nine provinces and holds at least three consultative public meetings in each province.

It will simultaneously call for written submissions from the public. I think we need to cover as many people as possible and not have people prejudiced by not being able to come here [to Cape Town]. I will propose we go to the people, said Smith.

Under normal circumstances South Africans send in written submissions to the committee � a joint committee made up of the National Assembly and NCOP MPs once every year in May to propose any changes they would like to see in the Constitution.

The committee deals with those submissions and publishes a report at the end of the year.

But with the contentious land expropriation proposal, the committee will go out to solicit views in provinces, as well as accept written submissions. This will also not be limited to the month of May, said Smith.

The National Assembly has agreed that any amendments to the Constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation must go through a parliamentary process.

The joint committee’s brief is clear: The committee has the task of, after consulting broadly, advising Parliament about whether the current constitutional provisions as contained in section 25 are adequate or, in the event that section 25 needs amendments, the nature of the amendments, Smith said.

Second, the committee must get the views of stakeholders on the necessity of, and the mechanisms for, expropriating land without compensation, he said. As an ANC member, Smith said there might be some expectation or pressure to come to certain conclusions.

The governing party resolved at its national conference in December to amend the Constitution to achieve land expropriation without compensation provided it was sustainable.

Head of the ANC’s economic transformation subcommittee Enoch Godongwana told journalists then that the discussion on land expropriation nearly collapsed the conference. It was rowdy and tough, no doubt about that, he said.

I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if I don’t, said Smith responding to a question about possible pressure of overseeing the process as a deployee of the ANC.

He said although this was an ANC conference resolution, it became a parliamentary matter when all but four political parties represented in the National Assembly supported it. Yes, the party that I belong to happens to be one of those. So I must be able to go back and say: ‘Madoda, this thing that we want to do, that we have agreed upon, is only doable if we change the Constitution or this thing is doable, you don’t have to change the Constitution.’

That’s the task I have those resolutions are taken at conference whatever they are but ultimately they must stand the constitutional muster when assessed, he said.

Smith said the mandate of the committee was twofold: Now that we want to expropriate land without compensation, is the legal framework [section 25 of the Constitution] able to sustain that?

All that must happen now is that it must be done in line with the Constitution. Some people might argue the Constitution is fine as it is and it has not been tested, but others are saying, ‘it’s not fine, you must change it’ and that is the question we must answer from our side.

We could come and say to everybody, ‘you know what, in fact, there is no need to change the Constitution, just go and do it [expropriate without compensation] and let somebody challenge it in court or to safeguard ourselves’ and add a sentence, ‘so that even if somebody takes it to court we can support expropriation without compensation where it is in the public interest’. That is what is going to happen, said Smith.