According to recent media reports, Mr Malema was quoted in relation to attempted land occupations in Nellmapius, Pretoria-East as having said that [land occupation] are “progressive programmes which must happen everywhere in South Africa…That is our land. They must take it.”

Such a statement by any political leader, but more so by a Member of Parliament, is irresponsible and may well be viewed by supporters of Mr Malema as justification for illegal and forceful occupation of privately-owned and state-owned property. This statement – apart from obviously advocating illegal action that could lead to violence or worse – is shortsighted and falls short of the rule of law.

Land restitution, in the context of restorative justice and the achievement of equality, remains a sensitive matter, which requires a balanced approach in terms of section 25 of the Constitution. In this regard and with reference to urban land occupation in general, land reform and restitution should focus on the seven to 10 million council-owned township houses in urban areas, where the vast majority of South Africans reside (as opposed to some 40 000 farms which remain the focus of land restitution). These council-owned properties should be converted to unambiguous, tradable and mortgageable ownership without delay.

Statements calling for illegal and even forceful occupation of any property for whatever reason must be condemned and cannot be justified for any reason.

By Adv Johan Kruger, Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights

Photo credit: GovernmentZA / Foter / CC BY-ND