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South African parliament adopts motion for land expropriation without compensation

A day is a long time in politics: two days ago, new President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a new cabinet, appointing new ministers in the portfolios of finance, public enterprises, mineral resources and water affairs (among others). Yesterday a momentous debate on land reform in parliament led to the adoption of a motion to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

The motion was brought by an opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and was adopted by 241 votes in favour and 83 against. When a similar motion was brought a year ago it was overwhelmingly defeated.

The ANC, which unusually voted with an opposition party on this matter, introduced amendments to the motion to the effect that such land reform should occur in a manner that does not compromise food security and increases agricultural productivity.

Currently the constitution does not allow for expropriation without compensation, so a constitutional reform committee has been tasked with considering the matter and will bring it before parliament again by the end of August. Organised agriculture are largely opposed to land expropriation without compensation, fearing its impact on agricultural investment, while analysts are welcoming the debate because the land reform process up until now has not been very successful. President Ramaphosa has said that he would consult financial institutions on land reform.

During yesterday’s debate Julius Malema, leader of the EFF said: “The time for reconciliation is over, now is the time for justice. If the grandchildren of Jan van Riebeeck [Dutch commander who claimed the Cape in 1652] have not understood that we need our land back, then they have failed to receive the gift of humanity.” 

The spectre of Zimbabwe always looms large when discussing the important subject of land reform. Agricultural economists Wandile Sihlobo and Johann Kirsten wrote last week: “With the benefit of hindsight, the Zimbabwean experience tells us that the notion of expropriation without compensation is a bad idea. The Zimbabweans might have seized the land without compensation 18 years ago, but they collectively paid for it through eight consecutive years of economic decline that led to job losses, de-industrialisation and a loss of agricultural export revenues.”

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