The Expropriation Bill project update was presented in a virtual meeting by the parliamentary support team. The presentation covered a statistical overview of the submissions made, observations and analysis of the submissions, and recommendations moving forward with the public participation process. Challenges relating to the public participation process were highlighted, and emphasis was placed on the impacts of limited funding, the lack of a comprehensive media plan and the constraints of the lockdown restrictions.
Submissions were observed to be lower than expected, particularly individual submissions. Since the release of the social media advert, a marked increase in submissions from individuals affiliated with a number of organisations had been seen. Submissions had been received mainly from people in urban areas, and the majority of respondents did not support the Bill.
The Committee expressed concern about the low number of submissions, particularly given the previous process where the President could not sign the Bill into effect due to an insufficient public participation process. The Members were disappointed that there had been a delay in the social media advert which was due to go out on 11 and 12 December 2020, but had gone out only on 29 January. They requested clarity regarding the lack of funds to advertise via radio.
The Committee noted that there seemed to be a lack of understanding of the Bill, as expressed in the submissions. The value of organisations in facilitating access to information and comment was highlighted, as they played an important role.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on gatherings, the Committee was concerned about the in-person public hearings due to be held after the State of the Nation Address (SONA). However, in-person hearings were highlighted as essential, given the low electronic response rate and the need to have an inclusive process.
Expropriation Bill project update
Ms Nola Matinise, Committee Secretary, and Mr Shuaib Denyssen, Committee Content Advisor, presented the Expropriation Bill [B2-2020] project update.
The project had started on 14 October 2020, and it was proposed that it end by 30 July 2021. The Committee had resolved that a call for public comment must be published on 10 December 2020, and print media and website publication should take place from 11/12 December 2020. Radio promotions were due to be aired from 25 January 2021, except for uMhlobo Wenene FM, Mongana Lonene and Phalaphala FM. The social media advertisement was published on 29 January 2021.
The process had encountered several challenges:
Resources (funding) relating to radio advertisements specifically.
Lack of a comprehensive media plan.
COVID-19 Alert level 3 lockdown restrictions which limited gatherings and would impact on in-person public participation.
Public education relating to the understanding of the implications of the Bill.
The Agricultural Union of South Africa (TLU), the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), and Dear SA were the dominant organisations. There had been a duplication of responses, and a clear indication of campaigns behind responses. Media coverage was poor throughout the provinces, which was suggested to be as a result of the delay in the social media advertisement and the media’s current focus on the pandemic. Radio promotions took place, but were limited due to insufficient funds. Telephonic queries took place via WhatsApp, which was the first time Parliament had utilised WhatsApp for public participation. There were fewer individual submissions than expected.
The main feature of electronic submissions on legislation is that they receive a high number of submissions, but a lower number of people participating. There had been a lower diversity of views on the piece of legislation under review. Since the weekend of 29 January till the first week of February, tens of thousands of emails appeared in the name of a number of organisations, including the SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), AfriForum (onteiening.co.za), Free State Agriculture (FSA) and DearSA. The majority of the bulk emails from these organisations provided a single narrative, opposing the Expropriation Bill in the form of thousands of emails.
TLU SA specifically opposed the nil compensation provision, and suggested that the Expropriation Act (No. 63 of 1975) should remain in force.
DearSA focused mainly on:
Chapter 4: Powers of the Minister to expropriate;
Chapter 4: Intention to expropriate and expropriation of property;
Chapter 5: Compensation for expropriation; and
Chapter 8: Withdrawal of expropriation.
Decisions needed to be taken on how the written submissions may be viewed, as individuals were providing a single narrative through large organisations. Two substantive submissions had provided detailed suggestions on clauses related to timeframes, definitions, and impediments to implementation of some provisions specific to the Bill.
Project sponsor to source more funding for the project and provide feedback to the Committee by no later than 10 February 2021.
Parliamentary Committee Secretary (PCS) to draft a media plan and submit to the Committee by no later than 10 February 2021.
Embark on a drive to clarify the objectives of the Expropriation Bill -- through interviews, the Public Education Unit, radio and video promos.
Extension of the public comments submission deadline to 28 February 2021, to accommodate further submissions.
Postponement of public hearings for commencement in March 2021, to make space for potential ease of COVID19 lockdown restrictions.
Mr W Thring (ACDP) noted that at the section 25 public meetings, the different political parties had a particular view with regard to the section 25 process. He observed that one would see a caucus leader of a party handing out slips of paper to its Members, and those Members then came into meeting and the same refrain would be repeated by multiple people present. He had been told by some of the leaders of the political parties that “that was how things were done.” He understood that section 25 and the amendment bill were controversial, because there were different opinions on it. It was one’s democratic right to align oneself with a particular view or organisation. Should they not have wanted respondents to align themselves with the views of an organisation, they should have made the submission guidelines clear. They could not, nor should not, discount those submissions. It was the opinion of an individual in South Africa, rightly or wrongly, who had chosen to align themselves with a view. Those views, as much as they may be repetitive, could not be discounted. They would need to review the section 25 meetings if they were discounting these, and he did not believe this was something they should be doing. Having stated the above, he was not opposed to the recommendations presented.
Ms S Graham (DA) asked who was funding the public participation process. She expressed concern that there was no media plan, given that the public participation process should be widespread and inclusive. It was important that they reached the most vulnerable, who this process was seeking to “support and uplift.”
How relevant was the public participation process? Of the 216 electronic submissions received, 92 percent had said “no.” What impact did that have on the Parliamentary process? Should they then halt the process? Did they pay any real attention to what people were saying and feeling, or would they just forge ahead anyway? If they ignored the inputs and the sentiments in the country’s people, then what was the purpose of public participation – “the people in Parliament might as well go ahead and do their own thing.” She agreed with Mr Thring regarding the valuable role of organisations. Individuals did not always know how to participate, so it was important that there were organisations facilitating the process.
Mr E Mathebula (ANC) was concerned that only 209 people had made electronic submissions. South Africa had a population of over 50 million people, and clearly not everybody had access to devices to make electronic submissions. It was not in line with the Constitution that so few people could represent all of the 50-plus million people. The National Assembly was required by section 59, subsection 1(a), of the Constitution to ensure that there was a public participation process in matters of this nature. During this period, people had not been able to participate fully. Previously, the President had been unable to sign the Bill into law due to the lack of public participation. They could not make the same mistake again, given the financial implications and time delay.
He supported the recommendations presented. Those in rural areas may not be able to submit electronically, and their rights could not be ignored in a process of this magnitude. He supported the extension of the electronic submission period and the public participation period. He emphasised that they could not lose sight of the fact that they were in the middle of a pandemic, and could not risk the lives of South Africans through in-person engagements.
He referred to those who were opposed to the Bill, specifically those who supported the Act of 1975, which did not include nil compensation. This view did not take into account the main aim of section 25 of the Constitution. The amendment spoke to instances where land was unused or misused, and “government would come in and take that particular land.” There could not be a situation where somebody had thousands of hectares of unused/misused land, and the government just stood by and did nothing. He was concerned that those opposed to the bill did not read and understand the adverts, and what was contained in the Bill. He suggested they give people more time to engage with the Bill and what it contained.
Ms M Hicklin (DA) emphasised that this meeting was not to discuss the merits of the inputs given. This meeting was about the failure of the communication systems to facilitate adequate participation. The fact that the number of responses had dramatically increased after the social media advert went out on 29 January was testament to the value of this method of communication. The majority of people to whom this process would be the most beneficial, had been excluded due to not having access to information. The Committee needed to ensure that the deadline was extended to facilitate input from those people. They needed to be aware that the second wave of COVID-19 was still with them, even with the numbers declining. There could not suddenly be an exponential number of people wanting to make physical submissions because they did not have access to an electronic form.
She suggested that people had aligned themselves with the various organisations such as the TLU, the SAIRR and AfriForum because they could use a standard form with which to make a submission. They could not dismiss those submissions because they had aligned themselves with an organisation. There were organisations that had put out a form that had made it easier for people to say, “this is my view,” “I do not know how to express myself,” or “they have put forward a view that expresses what I want to say.” She suggested they needed to take this into consideration and be mindful of it. People had aligned themselves with organisations because the common belief was that as a single person they could not make a difference. There was strength in numbers.
She suggested that it sounded as if people were speaking from a place of fear, and not a place of knowledge. The Committee needed to make sure that the messages that went out were clear. She suggested that many people did not understand the Bill. The number of submissions was not representative of the population. She supported an extension to the deadline, and suggested that they needed to provide better explanations of what the Bill and section 25 were.
Ms A Siwisa (EFF) expressed disappointment regarding the delayed social media advert. She referred to the Press Council of South Africa (PCSA) not having enough funds, which had resulted in the information not getting out there. Social media formed the backbone for communicating information. If Parliament’s communication system was the one failing them, questions would be asked as to why the first attempt had failed. One of the reasons was that there had not been enough public participants. Certain radio stations could not advertise because Parliament did not have enough funds. Parliament had failed the public by not facilitating their participation. They did not want to fail again. They needed to create a platform, and that funding needed to be sourced.
She referred to the recommendation made about the postponement due to the COVID-19 lockdown. She suggested a later date for the physical public meetings, as they wanted as many people as possible to participate -- but not at the risk of spreading the virus. March 2021 was too soon for physical meetings. She suggested that a later date would be more appropriate.
Ms S van Schalkwyk (ANC) stressed that they should not go into the details or merits contained in the Bill, but rather focus on their agenda item in terms of the way forward. She was concerned about the “excuse” of insufficient funding available to advertise via radio. She proposed that they look into advertising via community radio stations, to ensure that those in the rural areas would be able to access the information. She proposed that fliers be developed for distribution at all the Parliamentary Constituency Offices (PCOs).
She supported the proposal that the electronic submission date be moved to the end of February 2021. She suggested they move the public hearings to when the lockdown level 1 would be announced. The sooner the better, but they could not risk their lives and the lives of the people. There needed to be maximum participation. She was concerned at the lack of response, and suggested that they also needed to educate people, especially those in rural areas and in provinces with low engagement. They needed to ensure maximum participation from those areas, and suggested engaging with local municipalities.
Ms L Mjobo (ANC) agreed that they should hold public hearings when the lockdown level allowed for such gatherings.
The Chairperson highlighted that it was not just the phase of submissions that they were dealing with. When the draft Bill came to them initially, they had agreed that it needed to be sent to the House of Traditional Leaders first. This had taken place. The second phase involved the submission of written input. The next phase would involve oral submissions, where parties and organisations would present. The oral submissions would be done virtually. Lastly, the public hearings would be held, which would accommodate those who did not have another method to make input. They would observe the health protocols and restrictions, as outlined by the President and the Minister of Health.
When the Committee previously agreed on the project, they had said that the public hearings would start immediately after Parliament re-opened, and the State of the Nation Address (SONA) had taken place. The Committee now proposed mid-March 2021. She suggested that the public hearings take place once the President had eased the restrictions to level 1. They could not hold public hearings now, as they would not reach everyone. They needed to extend the written submissions to 28 February, and fliers would be issued to all the PCOs.
She suggested engagement with the provincial legislators, so the information could be shared with their respective communities. She reminded the Committee that they were repealing Act 63 of 1975, an Act that was related to the apartheid government. Land was a political issue. There was a history of land being taken from people without an Act in place. This was a constitutional government bringing in a bill that needed proper public participation processes, taking into account the views of South Africans.
Ms Matinise, in response to Mr Thring’s comments, emphasised that they were not discounting any views or submissions of individuals or organisations. It was everyones’ constitutional right to align themselves with a particular organisation. The reason the support team had brought this to the attention of the Committee was because it gave an overall picture of the submissions received so far.
She responded to a question raised by Ms Graham, and said the funder was the Unit Manager in the Committee Services Section. When there was a legislative project, the Committee Secretary became the project manager, and the Unit Manager would be the sponsor of the project. The funding came from the coffers of the Committee Section. The Committee Section would make available a certain budget for legislative projects. This was the same for any other stakeholder who had to assist them.
The support team was in agreement with the Committee that the lack of a formal media plan was a problem. She had just received a communication from Ms Faith Ndenze, Media Officer: Parliamentary Communication Services, who had drafted a specific and comprehensive media plan. She had submitted it to her manager and would consult her other colleagues in the Parliamentary Communication Services. The support team should receive it as soon as Ms Ndenze's other colleagues had given input.
She referred to a question raised by Ms Graham, regarding whether they were taking into consideration the message behind the submissions they had received. On the second slide, the legislative process was outlined according to the rules of the National Assembly, which stated clearly the process that needed to be followed by each portfolio committee when processing legislation. Those steps needed to be followed thoroughly.
They had tried to be innovative this time around, by adding a WhatsApp number. In most rural areas there was not good access to devices and connectivity to send emails, but in most families of seven people, one member had access to WhatsApp. The WhatsApp number would give them a link to an electronic form. The form was very straightforward. She offered to show the Committee Members the form and how to navigate it at the end of the meeting. They had to do public hearings regardless of the analysis of the inputs.
They had received 41 837 email submissions from individuals, many of whom were attached to organisations. There were about 13 or 14 from individuals who did not submit through an organisation. The 216 electronic submissions were derived directly from the electronic form which automatically generated a report as people submitted. This was likely to be easier than the email submission. Parliament had never done electronic submissions like this before, which was probably one of the reasons why it was having a slower uptake than the original email submission option.
She noted the recommendation regarding public hearings taking place at lockdown level 1 – they would effect this, as proposed by the Committee. She would also follow-up regarding advertising on community radio stations and producing fliers for distribution.
Mr Denyssen said that every single submission, whether it was using the platform of another organisation or not, would be taken into account in the process. When they had analysed the submissions and stated that a large proportion of the population were excluded and very few views were expressed, this was simply an observation. This was not a negative comment about the submissions. It did not disqualify the submissions -- nothing would be disqualified. The process of including the voices of every single person, no matter how, who or what their views were, would be adhered to, because this was what they had fought for. They were simply looking for the diversity of views on the Bill and the issues of the Bill because they could not sit with the current submissions, which gave them a skewed version of participation. At a later phase, all organisations that wanted to present would have the opportunity to do so and deliberate with the Committee on the issues.
Ms Inez Stephney, Committee Researcher, agreed with her colleagues. She suggested that the source of the confusion relating to the comment about the volume of inputs from organisations was more to do with the duplication of inputs. There were two or three of the same submissions by the same person through those organisations, which had inflated the numbers. It was not that similar views would be discarded, it was just to highlight that the numbers fluctuated due to the duplication of submissions by the same individual/s.
Ms Matinise suggested sending the public participation WhatsApp number to the Committee’s WhatsApp group so that the Committee Members could understand the process of accessing the form. She also offered to show the Committee what the submitted form looked like on their end.
The Chairperson suggested that Ms Matinise should share her screen so that they could see the live website submissions and automatic report.
Ms Matinise shared her screen, and outlined the process of submission. One could access the form via a link that was sent through via the WhatsApp number. She showed the summary of a submission on the live website. It stated the name of the person and the organisation they belonged to. Some people were not affiliated with an organisation. It then showed the summary of submissions per province in a pie chart. It also asked for the specific town of the respondent – this gave them an indication of their reach.
She commented that they had not received many responses from rural towns. This might be due to the manner in which it had been advertised on radio, as the adverts were not concise, nor did they explain the process/benefit of using the WhatsApp number.
The site also showed the contact details of each respondent. These had been requested so that they could follow-up if a response was unclear, or if they wanted a person to come in for an oral submission. There was also a comment section and a section where they could state their reasoning and make reference to a specific chapter in the Bill. There was an option to upload videos or files if they did not want to write out their response.
The Chairperson said that the WhatsApp number was 060 550 9848 for those who were in the meeting and for those watching on the Parliamentary channel. She asked whether there were any further comments or questions.
Ms Van Schalkwyk wanted to emphasise that the relevant languages per area should be taken into consideration in the developing of the fliers, and should be distributed accordingly.
The Chairperson responded that when the adverts went out, they had been in all 11 official languages and were advertised in all the major newspapers. It would not be difficult to produce the fliers in the 11 official languages.
She thanked the Committee for their deliberations and comments. She emphasised that they needed to make use of the community radio stations, as these were used in the rural areas. The pandemic was not yet over, so she encouraged Members to promote the health and safety regulations relating to COVID-19.
The meeting was adjourned.
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