“White people, your time is up.” South Africa grabs White farmers land

Land reform is an important step for any government which believes minimizing the gap between rich and poor paves way to a better and futuristic economy, but a similar effort by South Africa raised much questions earlier this year when 241 votes in the parliament backed amendment proposal of Section 25 in the property ownership clause of the constitution while just 83 voted against it.

The government cited to empower the farm workers and reduce inequality in the country by expropriationing of land in public interest without compensation as those were decades ago seized by whites without compensation.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party leader Julius Malema then said, “We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land.”

Lately US President Donald Trump revealed to have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to study the land and farm seizures of South Africa.

South African government responded to the comment with a tweet that the narrow perception of Trump is completely rejected by them as he only seeks to divide the nation and reminds them of past colonial era.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa announced earlier this year, on August 1, that change in constitution has been proposed by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to allow expropriation of land without compensation.

He added that land reform will not impact either economic growth or food security, but until now, claims ANC, no land has been seized after the reforms.

Apartheid ended in 1994 in South Africa and since then ANC has followed the model of “willing-seller, willing-buyer”. This mean the government buys farms owned by the White and thereafter distribute it to black people.

Progress was slow and people thought something different need to be done to speed up change without hurting the economy.

White’s land holding

A government audit report of 2017 reveals 72 percent of the private farmland was owned by the white who were into minority and making just about 9 percent of total population.

The report adds further that the Whites officially occupied 23.6 percent of total farmland in South Africa and the black owned just 1.2 percent.

The 1994 land reform

African National Congress started developing land reform programme in 1994 with three possible ways – redistribution, restitution and land tenure reform. The first referred to commercial farmland transfer from white people to black. Restitution referred to offering compensation to land which were lost due to discrimination, racism and apartheid while the last talked about more secure access to land. Even though the measures were not fully effective but the government expected 30 percent of the farmland would change ownership. However, in next five years only 1 percent of farmland changed hands.

Supporters of land reform

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his party ANC have prioritized the land redistribution. It is backed by the vocal EFF party, whose leaders have called for expopriation of land without compensation.

Opponents of land reform

Democratic Alliance (DA) and some of the rights groups have been opposing the government’s plans citing investors would be scared with the amendment of section 25. Spokesperson Thandekha Mbabama said the measure is a political ploy to get votes.


Arrival of whites in South Africa dates back to 1652 when the first Dutch settlers landed. Many blacks arrived later. In recent decades, since 1913, black increased by 920 percent.

Since 1913 the population increased from 6 million to 52 million. The white demographic increased by just 3.3. million during the period and now their population is 8.4 percent of the total.

The Dutch settlers found great wide-open, beautiful spaces here and did something similar to what Erik the Red did in Greenland. They had set up shop, but lived separately on their block with different values and cultures. They lived apart and maintained apartness. For long period their such living went unquestioned, but something happened later. The country started moving into modernity. The region was developed by British and Afrikaners. It was named as South Africa. Black got integrated into the European creation like getting hired by the whites and learned European languages or imparted Western education. They too developed a sense of belonging. The blacks outnumbered whites by 10:1 ratio. The apartness was later replaced with government-ordained policy of apartheid.

Bottom Line

It is true the apartness and so-called apartheid had to come to an end. The social inequality too need to end up. The call for land reform without compensation reflects widespread perceptions that the present society is unfair. Another way is about punishment and retribution. Zimbabwe followed the same earlier and it showed that land confiscations would be a risky policy of government. Rural infrastructure and extensive training for hundreds of thousands of new farmers cannot be undertaken overnight. It requires larger share of national budget. It requires hard choices by the government clubbed with skillful leadership to justify and defend the measure. Much more could be achieved if the government demonstrate its commitment to land reform.

Take a note that other government expenditure could be reduced if deconcentration of commercial sector is done and moreover there could be a limited scope for raising additional revenue.

Paul Linus

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