SA plan to seize land from white farmers will be ‘catastrophic’

South Africa plan to seize land from white farmers will be ‘catastrophic and could lead to anarchy and food shortages like Venezuela or Zimbabwe’

  • President Cyril Ramaphosa said his ruling ANC party will push ahead with plan
  • Constitution change will allow for expropriation of land without compensation
  • Much of the most productive land in South Africa is still owned by white people
  • But experts say the move will lead to dire consequences for the country

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.

South Africa is to change its constitution to speed up redistribution of white-owned land to the country’s poor black majority. President Cyril Ramaphosa (pictured) said his ruling ANC party will push ahead with plans to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation

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.

Ian Cameron, also with AfriForum, said the move will lead to anarchy and cause the murder rate to spike to between 21,000 and 22,000 this year.

‘We’re really heading for a state of anarchy if something doesn’t change drastically,’ he said, according to the Daily Star.

He added: ‘There are places where the police simply refuse to act. 

‘They don’t know the law well enough or refuse to apply it to logical reasoning when it comes to defending people’s property rights.’ 

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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.’   

Much of the most productive land in South Africa is still owned by white people, 24 years after the end of apartheid which systematically disenfranchised black people

Analysts at investment giant Old Mutual said the president was aiming to control the narrative around land reform, which has so far been dominated by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, before the election.

‘It could be a very clever chess move,’ Old Mutual Investment Group’s managing director Khaya Gobodo said.

He added that Ramaphosa was trying to reduce the possibility of negative outcome from the land expropriation exercise by clearly staking out ANC’s plan on the matter.

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.

‘It has become patently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation,’ he said in a televised address.

‘The (ruling) ANC will, through the parliamentary process, finalise a proposed amendment to the constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected,’ he added, vowing the change would ‘unlock economic growth’.

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.

What are the controversial changes and why are they happening now?

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.

President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement late on Tuesday in a televised address to the nation, underscoring the political significance of the move.

The following explains some of the issues surrounding the emotive issue of land in Africa’s most industrialised economy.


Some legal experts argued there was no need to amend the constitution because Section 25 states that if land is taken from a property owner, ‘compensation … must be just and equitable.’

To some, ‘just and equitable’ could mean no compensation, depending on the circumstances in which previous occupants or owners were deprived of or removed from the land, either in British colonial times or under apartheid.

Citing recent public hearings, Ramaphosa said South Africans wanted the constitution to make clear when compensation was or was not justified.

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


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.


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.

AgriSA, a farm industry group, says 27 percent of farmland is in black hands. Its figure includes state land and plots tilled by black subsistence farmers in the old homelands.

Critics allege that many farms transferred to emerging black farmers have failed because of a lack of state support, an allegation Ramaphosa addressed on Tuesday.

‘The ANC has further directed government to urgently initiate farmer support programmes in depressed areas before the first rains this year,’ he said.


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.


Markets and investors are wary because of concerns about wider threats to property rights. The rand fell sharply and government bonds weakened after Ramaphosa’s announcement.

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.

Still, the risks are substantial. South Africa feeds itself and is the continent’s largest maize producer and the world’s second-biggest citrus exporter.

Agriculture accounts for less than three percent of national output but employs 850,000 people, five percent of the workforce. Threats to production would also fan food inflation, hurting low-income households.


Analysts say the ANC wants to appeal to poorer black voters, the core of the ANC’s support, ahead of elections next year.

The move also cuts into the platform of the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, headed by firebrand Julius Malema, who has made land expropriation without compensation his clarion call.

The ANC is expected to fine-tune its proposal and then take it to parliament, where a two-thirds majority is needed to change the constitution. Together with the EFF, it has more than enough votes in the 400-seat parliament to effect the change.

Observers have suggested constitutional reform is a ploy by the African National Congress (ANC), which has faced political pressure from the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, to win votes in elections due next year.

‘The intention of this proposed amendment is to promote redress, advance economic development and increase agricultural production and food security,’ said Ramaphosa.

He has previously endorsed land reform on the condition that it should not hurt agricultural production or economic output.

The ANC alone does not have the two-thirds parliamentary majority required to amend the constitution but would be able to pass changes with the support of the EFF.


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