Victory for participative democracy as Parliament extends deadline for public submissions on land expropriation amendment
24 hours after non-profit organisation DearSA announced Parliament’s IT servers were blocking public submissions on the proposed change in the Constitution to allow land expropriation, the Parliamentary committee responsible for the issue extended the deadline for comments to 29 February.
Earlier in the week, Parliament was adamant that there would be no extensions beyond the previously agreed deadline of Friday 31 January 2020 – despite requests from many other organisations and parties.
After much consultation with parliament, DearSA on Thursday morning received notification from the committee that it had changed its tune, giving the public another month to make submissions.
Within the last ten days, reports began surfacing of submissions that were being rejected by Parliament’s IT servers for “unacceptable content”. This triggered a public outcry and prompted participative democracy organisation DearSA – which offers a web-based platform for citizens to make official submissions – to approach Parliament to explain why certain submissions were being rejected.
DearSA founder Rob Hutchinson says Parliamentary IT servers may have spam filters set too high, but in other cases, certain email domains appear to have been blacklisted.
“We are pleased that the comment period has been extended. It may have been technical issues blocking submissions, but either way, it is unacceptable. When we inspected the blocked emails, we could not find anything offensive or unacceptable about the content. Parliament cannot appear to be censoring views – consciously or otherwise – on such a vital national issue,” says Hutchinson. “All of the blocked submissions we have seen have one thing in common: they are opposed to the Constitutional amendment allowing land expropriation without compensation”.
“This is, without doubt, the most serious Constitutional issue facing South Africa since the birth of democracy in 1994. It is vital that as many voices as possible are heard from all points of view on this issue,” says Rob Hutchinson, founder of Dear South Africa, who has so far facilitated more than 160,000 public responses to this amendment.
More than 80% have come out against the amendment to the Constitution that would allow expropriation of land without compensation.
This compares with 57% who were against the proposed amendment when DearSA ran a similar campaign last year.
The web page for submissions can be accessed here: https://dearsouthafrica.co.za/constitution-eighteenth-amendment-bill/
Human rights advocate Mark Oppenheimer says Parliament must be seen to be observing the utmost transparency around this highly sensitive issue. He says it is well known that all embassies in South Africa are closely watching the manner in which Parliament is handling the land expropriation issue, and reporting back to their governments.
Various groups have already threatened legal action over the land expropriation issue. “If Parliament is seen to be trying to smuggle the issue through without giving citizens a proper opportunity to have a say in the matter, this opens up new potential avenues of legal challenge,” says Oppenheimer.
Issued by: Dear South Africa
Contact: Rob Hutchinson: 0845574828
DearSA is a registered South African non-profit which operates independently of government and free from any political party influence.