South Africa to change its constitution to speed up redistribution of white-owned land to the country's poor black majority

  • 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
  • Amendment would speed up redistribution to the country's poor black majority

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 said his ruling ANC party will push ahead with the amendment to allow for the?expropriation of land without compensation.??

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

'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.

SECTION 25

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'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.

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.

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.

RISKS

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.

WHY NOW?

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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