Ramaphosa Says South Africa Law Changes to Boost Property Rights

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa will implement plans to increase access to land for the poor in an orderly fashion and will initially focus on making state property available for housing and farming, President Cyril Ramaphosa said, pledging that individual property rights will be strengthened.

“We want the rapid release of publicly owned land,” Ramaphosa told parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday. “I believe we can embark on a very positive process.”

Ramaphosa’s comments come amid a heated national debate over the government’s plans to amend the constitution to allow for land seizures without compensation. While the ruling African National Congress argues that the measure is needed to address skewed ownership patterns dating back to colonial and apartheid rule, some opposition parties say it will undermine property rights and deter investment.

While the ANC first agreed in December that the constitution be changed, the populist Economic Freedom Fighters, which has won support from young voters in impoverished townships by vowing to nationalize everything from land to banks, tabled a motion proposing the amendment in parliament in February.

The constitution already allows land to be expropriated and the planned amendments will provide greater certainty to both those who want and own land, and promote growth, stability and food production, according to Ramaphosa.

Win-Win Outcome

He rejected a demand from EFF leader Julius Malema that all land should be taken over by the state, saying citizens want to own their properties.

“We must transform our land and property ownership, we have got to do it,” Ramaphosa said. “We are facing a demand from our people and this what the ANC has to respond to. We now need to speed up the land reform process.”

The rand strengthened after the comments, extending gains to as much as against the dollar to 1.4 percent by 6 p.m. in Johannesburg, making it the best-performing currency in the world on Wednesday.

The president identified land owned by municipalities, state-owned companies and speculators as property that could be redistributed quickly.

“The land owners must not be afraid to be embrace this process,” he said. “We must have a win-win type of outcome.”

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