South Africa is on the precipice of a land reform bill restoring Black ownership

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In one of the most controversial pieces of legislation since the dismantling of Apartheid, the government works to amend its constitution to include land expropriation. The amendment removes private, white ownership of previously confiscated indigenous Black terrain.

Leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) have been in an ongoing public debate on the specifics of the pending land reform legislation. It plans to redistribute acreage involving massive land dispossession of Blacks by white settlers from the 1600s to the 1900s.

The larger questions involve the type of land to be included in the program; the logistics of redistribution; and if the land will be state-owned, communally possessed or entail individual proprietors.

Last week, Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president spoke about the bill. In his address he stated:

The lekgotla [South African court] reaffirmed its position that a comprehensive land reform programme that enables equitable access to land will unlock economic growth, by bringing more land in South Africa to full use, and enable the productive participation of millions more South Africans in the economy.

Ramaphosa cited high unemployment in the country, injustice and an inequitable economy as imminent issues that can be solved by returning stolen land.

Dismantling White Power

Post-Apartheid abandoned buildings and high rises in South African cities might be part of the the government’s land redistribution program. Skyline of Johannesburg.

One known fact of the bill is that whites will not be compensated. While much of the land is slated to be farmland, other properties such as abandoned buildings in cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town are likely to be considered as well, according to Business Insider SA.

The bill has caused increasing concern for whites and pro-business constituents of the constitutional amendment. People point to the near-decade of economic decline in Zimbabwe following thier land seizure initiative that took estates from commercial white farmers. . Since, a compensation package has been put into place, but only after Robert Mugabe, the president who implemented the order, was ousted in November 2017.

The radical difference between South Africa and Zimbabwe is that South Africa’s economy and land were largely left to whites post-Apartheid. Winnie Madizikela Mandela, the second wife of anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, was highly critical of the arrangement made between the ANC and white supremacist Apartheid leaders. Madizikela Mandela, also an anti-Apartheid freedom fighter who did much of the work while Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years, opined, “the economy is very much white,” citing failed Black enfranchisement and social empowerment.

Currently, South Africa’s white minority makes up 9 percent of the country’s population, but own 79 percent of the land with much of that being rural, fertile farmland that is cultivated by indigenous Black farmers.

Blacks make up the majority of the population at 76 percent, with coloured (racially-mixed) and Indian/Asian citizens as other minority groups.

From 1994 to Expropriation

Western Cape vineyard is prime farmland in South Africa

When the ANC came into power after the end of Apartheid, land redistribution was a major part of their platform.

In 1994, the government enacted a “willing seller, willing buyer” program giving white landowners the option to sell the land back to the state at a discounted rate.

The following year, The Commission on Restitution of Land Rights was created so that Blacks could submit claims of dispossession from 1913 onward. The idea was to begin the process of restoring land to Blacks who lost ownership due to racial discriminatory practices and forced removals often carried out through violence and hostility.

Along with these initiatives, past governments have facilitated land returns to indigenous groups such as the San and Khoi, people whose land was stolen centuries before the 1900s. Currently, the San are facing extinction in their fight for land returns.

However, the 24-year-old process has been slow. Black private ownership is 4 percent.

Over the years, the growing anger of a largely poor Black demographic forced the ANC to take swifter and more effective measures.

As reported by All Africa, the language for the new legislation must delineate the protection of property rights and the end of race-based land ownership. With many uncertainties in the expropriation without compensation, it is assured that the Ramaphosa Administration will move forward with land reform goals.

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