SA perilously close to land grabs: Ramaphosa vows to take property off ‘lazy hands’

Insignia of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)

EDINBURGH — The land expropriation debate has cast a shadow over Ramaphoria – the feel-good, positive boost to business sentiment – that has swept South Africa since Cyril Ramaphosa became president. Many have been hoping that talk about land seizures without compensation is little more than bluster designed to assuage disgruntled ANC members who have seen no improvement to their lives in the democratic era. But Ramaphosa keeps beating the land grab drum. This was clear when he spoke at an event in Johannesburg this week. Ramaphosa went as far as referring to current land owners as “lazy” hands in a speech in which he also vowed to clean up state companies, which he calls ‘sewers of corruption’. – Jackie Cameron

By Amogelang Mbatha

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country needs to take extraordinary measures to boost growth following years of stagnation in Africa’s most industrialized economy, and that his administration is taking immediate action to stamp out graft at state companies.

Ramaphosa won control of the ruling African National Congress in December and was named president in February after the ANC forced Jacob Zuma to resign from the post. He’s been spearheading a drive to attract $100 billion in new investment over the next five years and rebuild public confidence in state institutions, which was badly damaged during Zuma’s scandal-tainted nine-year tenure.

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“One of the other things that is going to help to give a boost to our economy is how we reform our state-owned enterprises,” Ramaphosa said at an event organized by the ANC in Johannesburg. “The state-owned enterprises were sewers of corruption, a number of them. They were like where the sanitation has clogged up. There was rot, there was filth and there was deep corruption. We are rooting all that out right now.”

Probes by the graft ombudsman and a group of leading academics indicated that billions of rand was looted from state companies, including power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. and port and freight rail operator Transnet SOC Ltd., by businessmen and officials with close ties to the former president. Zuma, who has been charged with taking bribes from arms dealers in the 1990s, and his allies deny wrongdoing.

New boards and senior managers have been appointed at several state companies including Eskom since Ramaphosa took office.

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The president said his administration will push ahead with plans to expropriate land without compensation, and ensure that this will promote economic empowerment. Lawmakers are currently evaluating whether a constitutional change is needed to allow for land seizures.

“We now have a great opportunity to put land to good use,” Ramaphosa said. “To take it out of those hands, lazy hands I might say, and put it into the working hands of our people.”

The president said he expects the ANC to remain united and that he doesn’t expect a breakaway by disgruntled members. His comments follow reports that Zuma supporters intended forming a new political party.

Source: Bloomberg