Land-Seizure Plans in South Africa Hit Major Stumbling Block

Plans by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress to amend the constitution to make it easier to seize land without paying for it have gone awry, because it failed to pin down sufficient support from other parties to push the changes through.

While the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, the third-largest party, backs expropriation, it says proposals flighted by the ANC don’t go far enough. The main opposition Democratic Alliance and other smaller parties oppose any constitutional changes, which require the backing of two-thirds of lawmakers -- a majority the ruling party lacks.

“We as the EFF will not vote for a sell-out amendment which still speaks of compensation,” Julius Malema, the party’s leader, said in a speech to parliament on Wednesday. “We will not vote for a constitutional amendment which refuses to acknowledge the state custodianship of South Africa’s land because we know that expropriation of land piece by piece will take us more than 100 years to reclaim our land.”

The ANC decided in 2017 that the constitutional amendments were necessary to address racially skewed land ownership patterns that date back to apartheid and colonial rule, but the process was bogged down by wrangling over the details. The uncertainty spooked investors who feared property rights will be undermined, and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration moved to reassure them that the process would not be allowed to degenerate into a free-for-all and that land will only be taken under narrowly defined circumstances.

The rand extended gains, rising 1.4% to 13.5673 per dollar by 5:49 p.m. in Johannesburg, its strongest level on a closing basis since February 6.

A lawmakers’ panel is currently considering how best to alter Section 25 of the constitution, which deals with property rights. It was supposed to conclude its work last month, but it requested a 30-day extension after its members failed to reach consensus.

The EFF won’t agree to further delays, according to Malema.

“We have tried everything to persuade the ruling party to repossess our land in a peaceful and constitutional manner and because they are controlled by White interests but they refuse,” he said. “We want our land for those who were dispossessed, and they were not compensated.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.