New South African president wants to seize land from white farmers without compensation

South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has pledged to return the lands owned by white farmers since the 1600s to the black citizens of the country.

Ramaphosa called this “original sin,” and said he wants “the return of the land to the people from whom it was taken… to heal the divisions of the past.”

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Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe © Philimon Bulawayo

The lands will be seized from white owners, who will not receive compensation, according to Ramaphosa. The new leader was sworn in on Thursday after his predecessor Jacob Zuma resigned.

“The expropriation of land without compensation is envisaged as one of the measures that we will use to accelerate the redistribution of land to black South Africans,” Ramaphosa said.

The South African president said such a drastic move would not damage the country’s agriculture or economy.

“We will handle it with responsibility. We will handle it in a way that will not damage our economy, that is not going to damage agricultural production,” he said.

A similar program of land redistribution was already carried out by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in the late 1990s-early 2000s. Thousands of white farmers were forced from their lands.

However, food production plummeted without the experienced farmers’ contribution, and Zimbabwe’s economy suffered a major slowdown. In 2010, the Guardian reported that Mugabe – who has since been ousted – used land reform to reward his allies rather than ordinary black Zimbabweans. In 2016, Mugabe signed a decree that foreign companies would face closure unless they sold or gave up 51 percent of their shares to black Zimbabweans.

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