South Africa Land Expropriation

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COVER IMAGE: A MAN USING PLASTIC TO MARK LAND IN OLIEVENHOUTBOSCH, SOUTH AFRICA. MARCH 12, 2018 SOURCE REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

A fierce debate is occurring in South Africa over the issue of land expropriation without compensation of the white farmers who own over 70% of the arable land to the black South African majority. The broad goal of the plan is to create an orderly transfer from white to black owners to rectify the racial imbalance. There is strong pushback against this proposition due to concerns that it would undermine property rights in South Africa (Ed Stoddard, 2018). Moreover, the neighboring nation  Zimbabwe expropriated land from its primarily white land owning population starting in the 1980s led to the general collapse of Zimbabwe’s food industry and further impoverishment. Another issue is the legal battles that could very well result from any land expropriation without or preceding constitutional changes to allow for it. However, it is unclear whether the current President Cyril Ramaphosa will continue the policy announced by his predecessor back in 2017.

To understand the proposed law it is necessary to understand the political landscape in South Africa over the past year. The former president, Jacob Zuma, facing mounting discontent over allegations of corruption in his administration in late 2017 and so called for a referendum on whether the government should expropriate land without compensation (Sunday Times, 2017). However, Jacob Zuma was removed by his own party in February of 2018 by the ANC (African National Congress) which has a majority in Congress. Zuma’s successor is Cyril Ramaphosa who many thought would take a more moderate approach to the land expropriation. However, the vote in parliament still passed under his government with the ANC aligning smaller parties such as the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters party). The ANC-led coalition now has the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution without the need for a popular referendum. A step they have moved towards by passing the motion. The current process under Cyril Ramaphosa is still unpredictable on what whether the land expropriation will go through and in what form.

South Africa has been dominated by a white minority that makes up 10% of the population (specifically those of British descent) since its incorporation as a British colony in 1814. Things accelerated in the 20th century with the Native Lands Act in 1913 which made it illegal for black people to own land outside of designated reservations known as “Homelands” that left only 13% of the country open to the natives. This repression was compounded by decades of apartheid policies that were ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela at the head of the ANC party (Ed Stoddard, 2018)

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