1913 Land Act headache: Reform urgent, but invasions not tolerated – Ramaphosa

JOHANNESBURG — Government has yet to decide how it finally acts on the land question, opening up all kinds of fear, panic and speculation around the topic in the meantime. Already, a notoriously right-wing, controversial Australian Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, has jumped on the uncertainty by floating the idea of fast-tracking visas for white South African farmers. Dutton has previously been criticised for making racist remarks about Lebanese Muslims in his country. Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa finds himself caught in the middle, trying to reassure markets that nothing destructive will happen while appeasing the losing Zuma faction in his own party. In Parliament on Wednesday, Ramaphosa again reiterated the importance of prioritising land reform in light of black South Africans having fallen victim to injustices in prior generations. But he also, again, stressed that land reform would be handled in a measured way so as not to cause economic chaos. – Gareth van Zyl

By Mike Cohen and Paul Vecchiatto

(Bloomberg) – South Africa’s government will ensure land reform takes place as a matter of urgency without harming agricultural production, but it won’t allow people to forcibly take over farms, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

“The return of land to who those work it is fundamental to the transformation of our society and is critical if we are to improve the lives of poor people in our country,” Ramaphosa told lawmakers in Cape Town on Wednesday. “We must work with urgency. This matter has been placed firmly on the national agenda.”

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Ramaphosa’s comments come almost two months after the ruling African National Congress agreed to change the constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation, a move the main opposition Democratic Alliance and farmers’ groups say will deter investment. On Feb. 27, lawmakers agreed to the principle of land seizures and told parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee to propose legal changes needed to facilitate the process.

Under the rule of European colonists, South Africa’s Natives Land Act of 1913 stripped most black people of their right to own property, a policy reinforced decades later by the National Party and its system of apartheid.

A land audit released by the government in February showed that farms and agricultural holdings comprise 97 percent of the 121.9 million hectares (301 million acres) of the nation’s area. Whites own 72 percent of the 37 million hectares held by individuals, more than two decades after the end of apartheid.

The government will make changes in land policy in a responsible manner after consultation and will follow the law, while land invasions won’t be tolerated “because that is anarchy,” Ramaphosa said.

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