South Africa's land expropriation law: 'Devastating' for the country?

The proposed amendment to the South African constitution that will see farmers’ land being seized without compensation will scare away foreign investors and imperil food security, head of Transvaal Agricultural Union told RT.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday announced that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) would formally introduce an amendment into the parliament that would legalize redistribution of land, most of which has been owned by the country’s white minority since the 1600s.

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Supporters of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) react to an address by newly-elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa on February 12 © RODGER BOSCH

Ramaphosa cited the overwhelming support the controversial proposal received at public hearings, arguing that the expropriations would “unlock economic growth” and “bring more land in South Africa to full use.”

Bennie Van Zyl, general manager of the Agricultural Union of South Africa (TAU SA), believes the result would be the exact opposite.

“For us, this is a pity that they’ve made their choice, because no one will invest in this economy and we actually need growth to address the realities of South Africa. So we have great concern for this approach,” Van Zyl said.

He said that some foreign countries have already reached out to the union and warned they would have to pull the plug on investing in South Africa’s agriculture if the expropriation law is enacted.

“A lot of foreign countries that have already contacted us as an organization say if that is the case, we are not willing to invest in your country anymore, “ he said, lamenting the law is going to “kill” investment.

“And if the ANC goes through with this, it will be devastating for this country,” he said.

Past experience of expropriation isn’t reassuring, either, as many of the farms that have been handed over under the ANC have gone out of production.

It is estimated that the major share of the land transferred since the apartheid system’s collapse in 1994 suffered a drop in production or is no longer cultivated. The Economist reported that about 70 percent of the eight million hectares of the redistributed land is now fallow.  

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© Julius Lando

Van Zyl says South Africa, a “very marginal agricultural country” compared to such giants as Russia, “cannot afford” this downward trend to continue, as it puts its food security in jeopardy.

The tremendous support that the ANC claims the land grab law has received, is an emotional reaction to populist rhetoric, without any thought of the adverse consequences, Van Zyl said. Instead of playing on the black population’s emotions, politicians need to adopt a more level-headed approach in order to prevent the looming crisis, he believes.

“We need some rational thought in this country, this is not the way to go.”

The ANC’s handling of the redistribution issue is in line with the ruling party’s long-term track record, fraught with unfulfilled promises.

“From the beginning they run this country by means of promises and by means of fear. And now, things are catching up with them. Every day we have a lot of strikes, violent strikes as people are not happy how things are going in this country.”

Instead of tackling problems at hand, the ANC “still promise more things and more things” Van Zyl said.

He explained  that the ANC was forced to adopt a more populist stance amid growing competition from The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a radical far-left political party, that has been long rallying for the confiscation of white farmers’ land.   

“I think the EFF is busy challenging them too much and the ANC is trying to save themselves and that’s what’s going on now,” Van Zyl said. He believes the ruling party wants to time the new law to the general elections coming up next year.

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