In Brief

South Africa’s ANC calls for compulsory land seizures

Fear grow among majority white landowners that country could follow Zimbabwe into violence and economic chaos

The chairman of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has called for the state to forcibly take over land from those who own more than a certain amount, fuelling fears among predominantly white landowners and sending the rand tumbling.

“You shouldn’t own more than 12,000 hectares of land and therefore if you own more, it should be taken without compensation,” ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe, a close ally of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who is also the country’s mines minister, told the News24 website.

With white people still owning most of South Africa’s land two decades after the end of apartheid, ownership patterns “remain highly emotive” reports Reuters, with the government accused of being too slow to transfer land to the black majority after centuries of colonial and racial oppression.

Government figures show whites, who make up just 9% of the population, own 72% of the farmland that is held by individuals.

Reuters says the ANC is “under pressure” to make headway with land reform ahead of next year’s national election, where the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters party has made faster land redistribution one of its main policies.

The ruling party, which has held power since the end of apartheid in 1994, plans to amend the constitution to make land redistribution easier, but at the same time has sought to assuage the fears of investors and landowners by saying any reform will follow the proper parliamentary process.

This has done little to calm majority white landowners, with AfriForum, an organisation that mostly represents white South Africans on issues such as affirmative action, warning the move to seize land without compensation, would be “catastrophic” for the South African economy.

“It’s clear that the process towards land expropriation without compensation is largely driven by the ANC political expediency,” says Jannie Rossouw in The Conversation.

“South Africans need look no further than Zimbabwe for an example of a land programme that can go badly wrong” he writes, arguing that “Zimbabwe’s land expropriation without compensation policy ended up being a land grab in which powerful politicians, and other connected people, simply commandeered farms, including buildings, equipment, crops and livestock”.

“There have also been warnings about Venezuela” says the BBC, where land was redistributed from the rich to the poor more than a decade ago with the aim of boosting production.

As a caution to South Africa, this has seen the Latin American country go from producing 70% of its food to importing 70% of it, according to the Confederation of Associations of Agricultural Producers.

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