Just weeks after being sworn in as South Africa’s new President, Cyril Ramaphosa has already followed through on his promise to see “the return of the land to the people from whom it was taken”.
On Tuesday, South Africa’s parliament voted on a motion to change the constitution to allow land to be confiscated and repatriated from white to black owners without compensation. The controversial motion passed by 241 votes in favor versus 83 against and will be reviewed by a committee by August 30th.
In an address to parliament in Cape Town last week, President Ramaphosa clarified that his goal is to right injustices of the past, as far back as European colonization in the 17th century, by forceful redistribution of land ownership to South Africa’s indigenous people.
“The expropriation of land without compensation is envisaged as one of the measures that we will use to accelerate redistribution of land to black South Africans.”
“We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land,” he said.
The motion passed Tuesday was pushed forward by the Economic Freed Fighters (EFF) party, the minority radical leftist wing of South Africa’s parliament. But the motion was also supported by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which controls nearly two thirds of parliament. Reforms addressing racial disparities have long been a major platform of the ANC.
South Africa has a troubled history of racial disparity that has persisted even two decades after apartheid.
The move to correct colonial injustices via land expropriation harkens back to similar policies initiated by Zimbabwe in 1999-2000. Under president Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s government confiscated thousands of white-owned farms under a land redistribution program. But the program had disastrous consequences.
Once known as the breadbasket of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe’s food production plummeted as its professional farmers were forced out of the country. Within only a few years, the former agricultural powerhouse and exporter of the region became reliant on aid from the United Nation’s World Food Programme. The economy experienced hyperinflation up to a reported 79.6 billion percent and has endured a decades-long depression.
This recent history spells serious concerns for South Africa’s new confiscation plans that critics argue will only inflame racial tensions in the country.
President Ramaphosa has reiterated his commitment to transferring land to black people but has also stressed that food security and production should be preserved.