By Paul Ndiho
Land reform is a hot topic across South Africa, as the country considers changing it’s constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation explicitly. The policy is designed to redistribute land to poor black people to tackle severe inequality 24 years after the end of apartheid.
The stakes are high as South Africans gear up for general elections in 2019. This will be the sixth election held since the end of the apartheid system. The African National Congress party, which has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994, is facing an uphill battle to retain its dominance and is proposing constitutional changes to address land issues.
The fight over land reform is expected to be a fierce political battle but South African president Cyril Ramaphosa says the proposed land reform is a lawful process that seeks to correct the legacy of decades of white minority rule that stripped blacks of their land.
“This process that we have embarked on should become an orderly process. It should become a process that will be underpinned by the rule of law.” The people of South Africa of all races are working together through Parliament and indeed some other formations and right platforms to find a solution to this historic challenge.”
Critics say this reform attempt threatens stability, many landowners and investors remain alarmed. In August, U.S. president Donald Trump, weighed-in on the issue with a controversial tweet, in which he ordered U.S. officials to investigate the situation.
Julius Malema, head of Economic Freedom Fighters party warned that his supporters would increasingly seize unoccupied land to put pressure on the government to redistribute land to black people.
“At the center of that economic struggle is the expropriation of land without compensation. We said to our people- the most practical way to get the land is to occupy the unoccupied land to put pressure on the state.”
The EFF won just over eight percent in the 2016 local elections and hoped to make a breakthrough in the 2019 general election by tapping into frustration among millions of young and poor South Africans.
“No, there won’t be violence about land. In South Africa we are very peaceful people, we are very robust people, and we resolve complex matters through dialogue.”
Black South Africans comprise 80 percent of the population, but own just 4 percent of the country’s land, according to the government records. Though the ruling African National Congress is pledging to close that gap, progress has been slow.
Mmusi Maimane leader of Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s largest opposition party, while launching its campaign ahead of highly contested elections in 2019 told supporters in Johannesburg that the campaign will be about land reform.
“There is an injustice in our country, which lies at the heart of the land question. As the leader of the DA I want to commit this to you, we will ensure that more black South Africans can own land through secure private property rights all across South Africa.”
The South African government has also come under the scrutiny of groups such as AfriForum, a group that represents some white South Africans. The group’s CEO, Kallie Kriel, says they fear they could have their land taken from them in the midst of a racially charged national debate over land reform.
“The figures are being portrayed falsely as if white people own all the land, which as I have said is only 22 percent, and that is being abused to try and mobilize people and building up hatred towards the white community. And those things we need to oppose to say what the real facts are.”
The land debate in South Africa is sparking similar sentiments in neighboring Namibia. A report tabled at the national land conference last month said 995 000 people out of Namibia’s total population of 2.4 million live in informal settlements and white commercial farmers own 70 percent of the farmland in Namibia.