South African land reform panel holds back

30 Jul 19

A team of South African experts has said some land should be expropriated but has held back from full-scale nationalisation.

In a long-awaited report, the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture proposes expropriation without compensation only in limited circumstances. 

The recommendation is unlikely to placate the country’s black majority, which is in favour of expropriation because white people – who make up just 9% of the population – still own 72% of farmland.

A land act in 1913 restricted black people in South Africa from buying or renting land as part of the apartheid system favouring whites.

Last September president Cyril Ramaphosa – who is in favour of expropriation – tasked a panel of experts with examining land reform as the ruling African National Congress came under pressure to act.

The party has repeatedly promised to speed up land transfers to the black majority since white-minority rule ended and it took office in 1994, but has made only limited progress.

Only about 10% of commercial farmland has been redistributed since then despite ANC promises that up to 30% would have changed hands by 2014 .

There is also considerable opposition to land expropriation by the agricultural industry, which has said it will threaten food security in the country and points to Zimbabwe where a similar policy wrecked the economy. 

The presidential panel said expropriation without compensation should only be one of several land acquisition strategies for land redistribution.

It has proposed that the government expropriate land that is being held purely for speculative purposes, that is already occupied and used by tenants and former tenants, and that has been abandoned.

The experts added that the point of departure for any redistribution policy must be a study of the nature of demand for land so that it is known who wants it, where and for what purpose.

The panel said people who had bought land since the end of apartheid should be treated differently to those who had inherited it under the previous system.

South Africa’s parliament is scheduled to debate a land expropriation bill in October, and its passage could face stiff resistance.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has rejected the presidential panel’s recommendations and warned that expropriation without compensation will batter the economy.

  • Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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