CAPE TOWN — When the stakes are this high, emotions tend to follow with blood pressure among members of large farm groupings rising commensurately, matched only by the architects of land expropriation without compensation as they constantly rebuff economic disaster predictions. By now we’re familiar with the push-back campaign, led by AgriSA, whose members are among the world’s largest white maize, table-grape and citrus fruit exporters. Put simply, they don’t trust the ANC with such legislative power and, post next year’s May election, a potential back-up Constitutional amendment. Here an ANC Exco member tells us why he’s on the farmers side in providing certainty around land rights and protecting the agricultural economy. He goes on to explain why and how this will happen, refreshingly distancing the ruling party from the EFF’s desire for seemingly Zimbabwe-style land-grabs and land nationalisation. He agrees with predictions that the logistics of the much-debated Constitutional change means it could only happen after the upcoming national elections. His arguments have been backed by some academic contributors to Biznews in the past. Stability, based on rational argument and grounded, trusting engagement are much in demand right now. – Chris Bateman
By Francine Lacqua and Sam Mkokeli
“This is not going to diminish or wipe out property rights,” Ronald Lamola, a member of the African National Congress’s National Executive Committee, said on Bloomberg TV Wednesday. “We’ve been very clear that we don’t want to” hurt confidence or collapse the economy, he said.
The ANC has called for changes to the constitution to clarify under which circumstances it can seize land without compensation to address racially skewed land-ownership patterns dating back to colonial and apartheid rule.
Critics say it could erode property rights and fears of Zimbabwe-style land grabs have stoked investor concerns and helped weaken the rand. With general elections looming next year, President Cyril Ramaphosa has embraced expropriation without compensation, but insists there won’t be a state-sanctioned land grab.
‘Rule of Law’
Land reform “will be done properly and through the rule of law,” Lamola said.
Changing section 25 of the constitution isn’t the ANC’s only strategy to ensure land reform, Lamola said, adding that regardless of amendments, this law protects individual rights. The government is redrafting its Land Expropriation Bill that will define the circumstances under which land could be expropriated even if the move to change the constitution failed. The debate for constitutional changes will take time and is unlikely to be completed before the general elections, expected in about May. “I don’t see it being finished anytime soon,” he said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg offices.
There is consensus on the need to distribute land to the country’s black majority to change racially skewed ownership patterns, Lamola said. “It is not about driving people to the sea,” he said.
AgriSA, the nation’s biggest farming industry lobby group, said in August it will go to the country’s highest court to protect property rights.
South Africa’s farmers are among the world’s biggest white corn, table-grape and citrus-fruit exporters, and are the second-largest producers of a wool variety used in clothing. A 2017 state-commissioned land audit shows that a third of the country’s rural land is owned by individuals and 72 percent of that is in white hands. Companies and trusts hold 43 percent of rural land, and the race of their beneficiaries and owners is difficult to determine.
The populist Economic Freedom Fighters party, which has won support from young voters in impoverished townships, supports the change and wants all land nationalised, which the ANC is against.
“We don’t support blanket nationalisation,” Lamola said.