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Land, Dignity & Democracy: South Africa’s Constitution Does Allow for Expropriation

Author: Richard Pithouse

At a public discussion on the land question in Johannesburg on Friday, February 27, Dikgang Moseneke, the Deputy Chief Judge of the Constitutional Court, began his remarks with a well-known quote from Frantz Fanon: “For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”

He spoke about the centrality of the land question to the struggle against apartheid and argued that, contrary to much of the bluster that often surrounds the issue of land, the Constitution does allow for expropriation and does not make land reform impossible. He noted that neither the phrase ‘willing buyer, willing seller’, nor the logic behind it, appear in the Constitution. The often strident misrepresentation of the Constitution in this regard has two primary political functions. The first is to deflect responsibility for the failure to achieve meaningful land reform after apartheid away from the ruling party. The second is to do so in a manner that presents the constitutional order as an impermeable barrier to the realisation of popular aspirations which are both legitimate and urgent.

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