JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's government laid out conditions on Sunday for when land might be confiscated without reimbursement, saying a new law submitted to parliament would pass constitutional muster and reassure investors unnerved about property rights.
The law would allow land to be confiscated without reimbursement in certain cases if it is unused, abandoned or poses a safety risk, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille told a news conference.
But she emphasised that compensation would also be possible and final decisions would be in the hands of the courts.
"The bill brings certainty to South Africans and investors because it clearly outlines how expropriation can be done," she said.
"The bill outlines circumstances when it may be just and equitable for nil compensation to be paid. It does not prescribe that nil compensation will be paid in all circumstances."
Land is one of the most emotive issues in South Africa, where most privately owned land remains in white hands more than two decades after the end of apartheid.
The governing African National Congress (ANC) has pledged to speed up land redistribution. It has started a parliamentary process to amend the constitution to make it clear that land can be expropriated without compensation.
Critics on the left say the ANC has been too timid in redistributing land, while opponents on the right worry that measures seen as confiscatory might frighten away investors.
In a worst case scenario, they point to the hasty and chaotic mass land confiscations that wrecked the economy of neighbouring Zimbabwe, though the South African government says no such move would ever be considered.
Under the new law, the authorities would be required to negotiate with the owners of land to try to reach an agreement on the acquisition of the property, before it can be seized.
The government said the chief state law adviser had certified that the new bill was constitutional.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Peter Graff)