A parliamentary committee in South Africa, controlled by the ruling African National Congress ANC, has begun a process to amend the constitution to allow the state to expropriate land without compensating owners.
The amendment, if eventually pushed through, will give the government the legal power to confiscate land “in the public interest.”
Opposition parties described the move as an attempt by a beleaguered ANC to win popularity ahead of upcoming local government elections.
During the colonial era and apartheid, the best land was reserved for white people. Black people were confined to impoverished townships in the cities. In the rural areas, they were generally allocated inferior land to farm.
When the ANC came to power in 1994, fair land distribution was one of its primary promises. It also vowed to create a new class of successful commercial black farmers to work alongside South Africa’s white farmers. But the ANC’s land reform program has been characterized by corruption and mismanagement.
The party itself described it as a “failure.” To cover up this failure, opposition parties say, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration wants to confiscate land to give to whoever it wants.
“Today is a great day for the people of South Africa, both black and white,” said the ANC’s Mathole Motshekga, the chairman of the committee, seeking to change the country’s constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation.
"Without land, you won’t be able to empower the majority"
Floyd Shivambu, deputy leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, said this is long overdue.
“At the core of the problems of South Africa is the landlessness of the black majority and Africans in particular," he said. "Without land, you won’t be able to empower the majority because as things stand, 80 percent of South Africa’s land is owned by less than 5 percent of the population.'
The government is already the biggest land-owner in the country, but it’s only redistributed a small portion of LAND to black citizens. T
The amendment needs the support of two-thirds of parliament to become law, a majority it doesn’t have.
Motshekga said he isn’t concerned about the amendment’s future.
“It’s not dead in the water," he said. "We expect that all political parties represented in parliament understand that they are there because the people put them there."
But most parties say they won’t agree to anything that endangers the rights of citizens to own property, and empowers the government to seize land.
The ANC’s adamant it won’t abuse its power to take people’s land without paying them for it.
“State custodianship doesn’t mean nationalization. It doesn’t mean that the state must own the land and turn citizens into tenants in the land of their birth,” Motshekga said.
But many remain concerned about the ANC’s land plans.
They point across the border, to Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe’s government seized farms owned by whites.
Most of the best land was given to officials of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front party. Agriculture collapsed and food shortages remain common.