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South Africa Votes to Confiscate White-owned Land Without Compensation

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Cape Town, South Africa— On February 27th, the South Africa parliament voted to launch the process of amending the country’s constitution in order to begin confiscating land from white farmers without compensation.

Reuters reported that the motion was brought by the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which controls 6 percent of parliament, and was supported by the ANC, which controls close to two-thirds of the parliament. The Democratic Alliance, Freedom Front Plus, Cope and the African Christian Democratic Party voted against the measure, according to News24. The motion, proposed by Marxist opposition leader Julius Malema, passed by a 241 to 83 vote.

“We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land,” Malema said, adding, “It is about our dignity. We do not seek revenge… all that our people ever wanted is their land to which their dignity is rooted and founded.”

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While whites are reportedly a minority— roughly 8 percent of the South African population— they still own around seventy-two percent of farmland, according to a 2017 government audit.

The controversial Malema has been steadfast in his commitment to operationalizing this policy, but has previously made contentious statements, such as telling his supporters in 2016 that he was “not calling for the slaughter of white people — at least for now.”

With a general election coming in 2019, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his first national address two weeks ago, appealed to the ANC’s core electoral base, stating that he’d work to hasten the transfer of land from white farmers to black ownership. Polling has indicated that Ramaphosa faces virtually no threat of defeat from opposition parties; however, a News24 report claims that he does face a threat from within his own party if he were to oppose the populist proposal of white land confiscation.

On Tuesday, Ramaphosa said would continue to pursue expropriation of white farmland without compensation, but reiterated that it should be done in a manner that preserves food security and agricultural production.

“The (African National Congress party) unequivocally supports the principle of land expropriation without compensation,” ANC rural affairs minister Gugile Nkwinti said. “There is no doubt about it, land shall be expropriated without compensation.”

With tension rising in the wake of the recent moves toward land expropriation, on Thursday, Ramaphosa said he wants to engage in discussion about land expropriation to avoid panic but aims to resolve the issue of racial disparities in property ownership “once and for all,” Reuters reported.

A similar land expropriation initiative in took place in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, who led the country to independence from white minority rule. Prior to the summary land expropriation of white-owned farmland, Zimbabwe was known as the “bread basket” of Southern Africa. Zimbabwe ultimately ended up needing food assistance in the wake of the land grab— with millions of suffering from food shortages.

A report for The Straights Times explained how the expropriation scheme devastated Zimbabwe’s export business:

While the farms were meant to be given to black families, though, many wound up in the hands of Mugabe’s close associates, and within years a large number had fallen fallow because their new owners had no background or interest in farming.

Leader of the Freedom Front Plus party, Pieter Groenewald, warned that uncompensated land confiscation could have “unforeseen consequences that is not in the interest of South Africa.”

Deputy chief executive of civil rights group Afriforum, Ernst Roets, noted that the move toward uncompensated land confiscation violated agreements that were made in the wake of apartheid. “This motion is based on a distorted image of the past,” he said. “The term ‘expropriation without compensation’ is a form of semantic fraud. It is nothing more than racist theft.”

Democracy Alliance member Thandeka Mbabama agreed that the wrongs of colonialism need to be fixed, but said land confiscation without compensation “cannot be part of the solution,” adding that the motion is a political diversion from the ANC’s failures regarding land reform and is a “lie peddled by the ANC, who fears being outflanked on the left by the EFF.”

The motion will be referred to Constitutional Review Committee, which will report back on the issue by August 30.

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