Reuters, August 2, 2018
South Africa’s white farmers have blasted the government’s decision to endorse constitutional changes in order to speed up the redistribution of white-owned land to the country’s poor black majority as ‘catastrophic.’
On Tuesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said his ruling African National Congress party will push ahead with the amendment to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.
More than two decades after the end of apartheid, whites still own most of South Africa’s land and ownership remains a highly emotive subject.
Investors said Ramaphosa’s speech was aimed at winning political points ahead of an election in mid-2019.
But experts have claimed the move will lead to dire consequences for the country akin to those suffered in Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
AfriForum, an organisation that mostly represents white South Africans on issues like affirmative action, said in a statement that land expropriation without compensation would have ‘catastrophic results … like in Venezuela and Zimbabwe’.
‘History teaches us that international investors, regardless of what AfriForum or anyone else says, are unwilling to invest in a country where property rights are not protected,’ AfriForum’s Chief Executive Kallie Kriel said.
Agri SA, a South African agricultural industry association, added that the move could lead to food shortages.
‘South Africa needs more black farmers and black farms. Constitutional amendments — and even worst-case expropriation without compensation — may make for good electioneering but it doesn’t make more black farmers,’ Dan Kriek, President of Agri SA, said.
‘Agrarian reform can only happen successfully working hand in hand, in partnership, with the private sector’ Omri van Zyl, the executive Director of Agri SA, added.
‘We have seen this movie play out all over world – Venezuela, Russia – the promise for emerging farmers of tools, fertilizer, seeds and extension services are superficial – many have promised this as election ploys– and yet the outcome is always catastrophic for agriculture and food security.
‘This is a populist move from the ANC that will lead to an economic downgrade — massive capital exodus and a contagion effect of all property and intellectual property classes.’
White farmers control 73 percent of arable areas and it is widely understood to be that land which could be forcibly seized and transferred to the previously disadvantaged.
The issue of whether to take land without compensating current owners is by far the most divisive and emotive issue facing modern South Africa with critics drawing parallels with Zimbabwe’s disastrous reforms.
Until now the government has pursued a policy of ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ to enable land transfer.
But in February lawmakers voted to establish a commission charged with rewriting the constitution to allow for forcible land transfers without compensation.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is forging ahead with plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED?
South Africa has a history of colonial conquest and dispossession that pushed the black majority into crowded urban townships and rural reserves.
The 1913 Native Lands Act made it illegal for Africans to acquire land beyond these reserves, which became known as ‘Homelands’.
While blacks account for 80 percent of South Africa’s population, the former homelands comprised just 13 percent of the land. The traditional leaders that oversaw the homelands still hold significant sway.
Estimates vary but the consensus is that most privately owned land remains in white hands, making it a potent symbol of the wider economic and wealth disparities that remain two decades after the end of white-minority rule.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a ‘willing-seller, willing-buyer’ model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks. Progress has been slow.
Based on a survey of title deeds, the government says blacks own four percent of private land, and only eight percent of farmland has been transferred to black hands, well short of a target of 30 percent that was meant to have been reached in 2014.
HAIL TO THE CHIEFS
The 17 million people who reside in the former homelands, a third of the population, are mostly subsistence farmers working tiny plots on communal land.
Critics of ANC land policy say that instead of seizing farmland from whites, such households should be given title deeds, turning millions into property owners. Reformers in the ANC have signalled their support for such a policy.
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who headed a panel of inquiry into the land issue, described traditional leaders as ‘village tin-pot dictators.’
Tribal chiefs were not amused, and warned the ANC in July to exclude territory under their control from its land reform drive. The Zulu King evoked the Anglo-Zulu war and the spectre of conflict over the issue.
Analysts say South Africa is unlikely to follow the route of Zimbabwe, where the chaotic and violent seizure of white-owned farms under former president Robert Mugabe triggered economic collapse.
Ramaphosa has repeatedly said the policy will be implemented in a way that does not threaten food security or economic growth. ANC officials have said unused land will be the main target.
Analysts say the ANC wants to appeal to poorer black voters, the core of the ANC’s support, ahead of elections next year.