South Africa risks 'Zimbabwe-style land chaos'
4 months ago, 11 Aug 10:00
Shockwaves are still being felt in South Africa after President Cyril Ramaphosa's controversial announcement that the country's constitution is to be changed to explicitly allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.
Markets reacted negatively and the currency, the rand, has continued to plummet over the last week.
This is because the plan has invited comparisons with the chaotic land reform programme across the Limpopo River in neighbouring Zimbabwe, which saw scenes of violent evictions of mainly white farmers.
But the move will be welcomed by those tired of waiting for reforms promised when white-minority rule ended in South Africa in 1994.
Nearly a quarter of a century on, the racial differences are still stark, nowhere more so than in the area of land ownership.
White people, who make up just 9% of the population, own 72% of the private land that is held by individuals, government figures show.
The redistribution of land was a fundamental principle of the governing African National Congress (ANC) during its struggle against apartheid, which enshrined racial discrimination in law.
The party has found it impossible to ignore the calls to go beyond its willing-seller-willing-buyer approach to land reform.
And Mr Ramaphosa appears to have bypassed a parliamentary consultation when he said in a television address that the constitution should be amended.
Section 25 of the constitution deals with property issues and there has long been a debate about whether it allowed the state to take land without money being paid for it.
A parliamentary committee has been looking into changes to the constitution to allow expropriation in the public interest.
Its nationwide televised public hearings have been a show of emotion by people of all racial groups, regardless of class or political affiliation.
During a session held this week in Cape Town's Goodwood suburb one woman representing the South African Homeless People's Association said: "Twenty-four years of liberal democracy [has] increased poverty.
"The masses are worse off because of the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle."
Another person who gave testimony said: "We are going to take the land, even if it means we're going back to the dark ages. This country must be African. We are African."
A man wearing a T-shirt of the right-wing Freedom Front Plus party said that his Afrikaner people had been farming in the Western Cape for the past 300 years.
"When my forefathers came, they found no-one but the Khoi and the San. My people got what they have in this country not by theft, not by genocide, but by fair means."
Some land owners threatened war to defend their farms and their opponents vowed to respond in kind.
So why has the president gone ahead even before the committee has concluded its work?
Observers point to a small opposition party - the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by the outspoken Julius Malema.
The party is only five years old but it has been a thorn in the side of the 106-year-old liberation movement, the ANC. It is the EFF which has been driving the agenda on land reform.
When I once asked its leader ...
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