As South Africa's passionate debate over land redistribution grows, one city to the east of Johannesburg is preparing what the mayor calls a "test case" for the nation. It entails the seizure of hundreds of acres of land from private owners, without paying for it, to build low-cost housing.
Like other South African cities, Ekurhuleni faces a dire housing crunch, with some 600,000 of its nearly 4 million people living in "informal settlements". Last month, Ekurhuleni's city council voted in favor of forging ahead with "expropriation without compensation," a legal tool that the ruling African National Congress says is necessary to correct the historic injustices of apartheid and distribute land more equitably.
Nearly a quarter-century after the end of white-minority rule, white South Africans comprise just 8 percent of the population but still hold most of the individually owned private land, keeping most economic power. In July, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the ANC planned to amend the constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation, sparking concerns that the move could destabilize the fragile economy and spur conflict in an already socially divided nation.
Ekurhuleni's Executive Mayor Mzwandile Masina, who heads the local ANC-led coalition, echoed the president, saying landowners in South Africa don't need to be "scared." "Our policy is not to take the land by force. Our policy is to make sure the land is shared amongst those that need it."
According to an article on farmingportal.co.za, Ekurhuleni plans to expropriate about 350 hectares of land within the city limits, both private and government-owned, that has been vacant for decades. This land will then be developed to relieve pressure in vast tracts of ramshackle dwellings. The mayor did not identify the landowners.
However, mayor Masina is today also facing a motion of no confidence, and this week has to fight hard to stay in the mayor's office.