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EXPLAINER-South Africa aims to expropriate land without compensation

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG, March 14 (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling ANC
aims to change the constitution to allow for land expropriation
without compensation to address racial disparities in land
ownership that persist more than two decades after apartheid's
demise in 1994.

The following explains some of the issues and risks involved
in the plan, which President Cyril Ramaphosa outlined to
parliament on Wednesday.


Spurred by the rise of the far-left Economic Freedom
Fighters (EFF), the African National Congress (ANC) adopted a
resolution in December to redistribute land to black South
Africans without compensation. Parliament then backed an EFF
motion last month seeking to change the constitution to allow
for this. A committee will report back to the chamber by Aug.

Together, the ANC, the EFF and other small opposition
parties could muster the two-thirds majority needed for a
constitutional change, but it is not clear when, or if, a vote
will take place.


South Africa 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 outside of these reserves, which became known as
"Homelands". While blacks account for 80 percent of South
Africa's population, the homelands comprise just 13 percent of
the land. They are largely controlled by tribal authorities
rather ordinary residents and farmers.


Since the end of white minority rule in 1994, the ANC has
followed a "willing-seller, willing-buyer" model whereby 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 percent of private land, and only 8 percent of farmland
has been transferred to black hands, well short of a target of
30 percent that was meant to have been reached in 2014.

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

Ben Cousins, a professor in Agrarian Studies at the
University of the Western Cape, has noted there are no estimates
on private transactions involving black farmers who have
purchased land themselves, so the data is incomplete.

There has been a parallel process of "land claims" by
individuals or communities dispossessed under white rule, but
most of the settlements have involved cash paid by the state
instead of people reoccupying their land, and 87 percent of the
claims have been urban.


The 17 million people who reside in the former homelands, a
third of the population, are mostly subsistence farmers working
tiny plots and subject to customary law.

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.

David Masondo, a member of the ANC’s Economic Transformation
Committee, said last week the party was considering this, but it
would face resistance from traditional leaders, a key ANC
political base cultivated by former president Jacob

A proposal by a panel headed former president Kgalema
Mothlanthe to dissolve the Ingonyama Trust, which controls the
land in the former Zulu homeland, was condemned by Zulu King
Goodwill Zwelithini. Zwelithini is the custodian of the Trust,
giving him wide powers to allocate land use.


Analysts say South Africa is unlikely to follow the route of
Zimbabwe, where the seizure of white-owned farms under former
president Robert Mugabe triggered economic collapse, in large
part because most of the new farmers lacked capital for
investment or experience with large-scale commercial

Agriculture was the backbone of the economy and so there
were ripple effects, with the undermining of property rights
also shattering investor confidence.

Ramaphosa has said the policy will be undertaken in a way
that does not threaten food security or economic growth and the
ANC's Masondo has said unused land will be the main target.

On Sunday Ramaphosa pointedly warned against land invasions.

Still, the risks are substantial. South Africa feeds itself
and is the continent's largest maize producer and the world's
second-biggest exporter of citrus fruits.

Agriculture accounts for less than 3 percent of national
output but employs around 850,000 people accounting for 5
percent of the workforce. Threats to production would also fan
food inflation, hurting lower-income households.

Wandile Sihlobo, an economist with the Agricultural Business
Chamber, says the farm loan book is around 160 billion rand ($14
billion), and if farmers could not repay loans there would be
ripple effects across the economy.


Analysts say the ANC wants to appeal to poorer black voters,
the core of the ANC's support, ahead of elections next year.
Ramaphosa has said he aims to resolve the issue of racial
disparities in property ownership "once and for all".

The EFF, headed by firebrand Julius Malema, has made
expropriation of land without compensations his clarion call.

South Africa's proportional representation system can make
small parties - the EFF only has 6 percent of parliamentary
seats - kingmakers in tight polls. This was the case in 2016
when the EFF backed opposition Democratic Alliance officials to
run key metropolitan areas including the capital Pretoria.
($1 = 11.8078 rand)
(Editing by James Macharia and Philippa Fletcher)

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