South Africans are increasingly worried that the government’s plans to expropriate land without compensation could destroy the economy and the country’s fragile democracy.
Local news website Independent Online reports:
The government’s plans to expropriate land without compensation have caused widespread anxiety with the rand falling due to concerns over property investments.
The agricultural and property sectors have called for an urgent meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the decision by Parliament to amend the constitution to make way for expropriation without compensation.
One agriculture industry representative raised the prospect of economic damage and even food shortages if South Africa followed Zimbabwe-style “land reform”:
Financial institutions are substantially invested in the [agriculture] sector and expropriation without compensation will impact negatively on the banking sector. Such a step could lead to a situation where institutions will no longer make production loans to farmers. Without these, farmers cannot purchase seed, fertiliser, feed or implements and will be unable to produce. This may lead to food shortages, price increases, food related riots and social instability.
The South African constitution includes a clause in its Bill of Rights enshrining the right to property. It declares that “Property may be expropriated only . . . subject to compensation, the amount of which and the time and manner of payment of which have either been agreed to by those affected or decided or approved by a court.”
However, left-wing and black nationalist factions have long pushed for the state to intervene — forcefully, if necessary — to achieve a more equitable distribution of land.
Under colonialism and apartheid, land was disproportionately reserved for whites — and seized from blacks. That left black South Africans with land that could barely sustain subsistence agriculture, while the white commercial agricultural sector thrived. The issue remains an emotive one, a potent symbol of the enduring legacy of apartheid and racial inequality.
The problem is that there is relatively little interest today among black South Africans in farming, and a lack of skills among aspiring black farmers. The post-apartheid government has done little to help new black entrepreneurs in agriculture, and much of the land that has been purchased for redistribution on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis has gone to the state rather than to black farmers.
Zimbabwe embarked on a disastrous campaign of “land reform” in 2000 after then-President Robert Mugabe lost a referendum to expand his powers. The ruling party used paramilitary thugs to push white farmers — and black farm workers — off the land, murdering many in the process. The country, once a net exporter of food, saw its farming sector collapse, along with its currency, and faced famine in some areas that drove millions to leave the country.
Rather than providing a cautionary example, however, Zimbabwe remains an inspiration for some in South Africa, including supporters of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, a small opposition party whose radical rhetoric has managed to reframe political debate around the issue.
For nearly a quarter-century, the South African government has resisted calls for radical land reform, mindful of sending negative messages to foreign investors, upon whom the country’s weak economic growth still depends. The new sense of panic in South Africa is heightened by the fact that the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who took office last month, was thought to be more moderate and business-oriented than his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, a populist who was dogged by claims of corruption.
But under Zuma, just one year ago, South Africa’s parliament defeated an “expropriation without compensation” proposal soundly, by a vote of 261 to 33.
Under the supposedly reformist Ramaphosa, that proposal passed, 241 to 83.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.