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Land expropriation plans not attack on white people, says Mokonyane

Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane made the comments at a briefing on the outcomes of the cabinet meeting in Pretoria.

Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: GCIS

PRETORIA - Government says plans to change the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation is not an attack on white people but about growing the economy.

Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane made the comments at a briefing on the outcomes of the Cabinet meeting in Pretoria.

While Parliament is hearing submissions on proposals to amend the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation, there have been several incidents of unlawful land grabs.

Mokonyane sought to allay fears around the process to review the Constitution.

“The intentions are not against the white farmer or white people. It’s about growing the economy, promoting exclusive growth, making sure we have food security as we diversify the agricultural sector.”

Mokonyane says unlawful land grabs will not be tolerated.

She urged landowners to report such incidents soon after the land is invaded and urged the authorities to act.

‘NO SMASH AND GRABS’

Last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa made it clear that there would be no smash and grabs during the land expropriation process. He made the comments during British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to South Africa.

She said: “I welcome the comments [that] President Ramaphosa has already made about the approach to land reform, bearing in mind the economic and social aspects of it. We already see significant investment in the UK. I think there are real opportunities for the future.”

Some legal experts argued there was no need to amend the constitution because Section 25 states that if land is taken from a property owner, “compensation ... must be just and equitable.”

To some, “just and equitable” could mean no compensation, depending on the circumstances in which previous occupants or owners were deprived of or removed from the land, either in British colonial times or under apartheid.

The country has a history of colonial conquest and dispossession that pushed the black majority into crowded urban townships and rural reserves.

The 1913 Native Lands Act made it illegal for Africans to acquire land beyond these reserves, which became known as “Homelands”.

While blacks account for 80% of South Africa’s population, the former homelands comprised just 13% of the land. The traditional leaders that oversaw the homelands still hold significant sway.

Estimates vary but the consensus is that most privately owned land remains in white hands, making it a potent symbol of the wider economic and wealth disparities that remain two decades after the end of white-minority rule.

WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks. Progress has been slow.

Based on a survey of title deeds, the government says blacks own 4% of private land, and only eight percent of farmland has been transferred to black hands, well short of a target of 30% that was meant to have been reached in 2014.

AgriSA, a farm industry group, says 27% of farmland is in black hands. Its figure includes state land and plots tilled by black subsistence farmers in the old homelands.

Critics allege that many farms transferred to emerging black farmers have failed because of a lack of state support, an allegation Ramaphosa addressed on Tuesday.

“The ANC has further directed government to urgently initiate farmer support programs in depressed areas before the first rains this year,” he said.

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS

The 17 million people who reside in the former homelands, a third of the population, are mostly subsistence farmers working tiny plots on communal land.

Critics of ANC land policy say that instead of “seizing farmland” from whites, such households should be given title deeds, turning millions into property owners. Reformers in the ANC have signalled their support for such a policy.

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who headed a panel of inquiry into the land issue, described traditional leaders as “village tin-pot dictators.”

Tribal chiefs were not amused, and warned the ANC in July to exclude territory under their control from its land reform drive. The Zulu king evoked the Anglo-Zulu war and the spectre of conflict over the issue.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

(Edited by Shimoney Regter)

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