South Africa : Expropriation of Land without Compensation

Forceful taking of land in South Africa  from ancestral rightful owners can be traced to laws such as The Natives Land Act (No. 27 of 1913) which was passed to allocate only  7% of arable land to Africans and leave the more fertile land for whites. The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new head of state in South Africa welcomed a new era in politics, were the leading party, ANC, indirectly and unexpectedly partnered with others to table a motion of land expropriation without compensation.

For many South Africans in the agricultural sector, this has  sparked fear due to the possibility of losing out economically. From a legislative perspective, this motion meant revisiting of the Constitution. Section 25 of the Constitution places an obligation on the state to “take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions that enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.” What followed was a grant based system, were beneficiaries could apply for government grants to co-finance them to purchase land for agricultural or settlement purposes.

The expropriation should be done in a manner that will not harm the economy and favours the interests of both parties concerned. The agricultural sector makes up 2.5% of  GDP, which increases to 7% when the entire value chain is considered. When land is expropriated, there will be no new net investment and therefore limited output will result for existing farmers. Both the agricultural and food processing sectors are arguably the largest employers in the country as they are labour-intensive industries. A decline in agricultural investment could therefore mean a decline in employment. Majority of those employed are black people.

Although significant, agricultural implications of expropriation without compensation are not the only factors that require consideration. There is the  a racial issue to consider as expropriation seeks to empower the rightful owners of land, who are historically speaking black people. As it stands, and as highlighted by President Cyril Ramaphosa, “White people in our country still own around 72% of the farms owned by individuals, coloured people in our country own 15%, Indians 5% and Africans – who constitute the majority of the people who live in this beautiful land – only own 4%.”.

Figures speak for themselves on the disparity in land ownership. Only 30% of land is individually owned, and the rest is apportioned for commercial purposes. From the 30%, black people have a 1.2% stake in rural land and 7% of urban land, whereas the white population owns 23.6% of rural land and 11.4% of urban land.

In a country  were black people who are the original custodians of African land, make up 80% of the population, the issue of land expropriation without compensation is a  necessary means of redressing past imbalances through existing  constitutional clauses.  The Constitutional Property clause for example  lays out that the state is to take reasonable legislative steps to realise secure tenure, redistribution and restitution. This means further policy can be developed or amended to adequately facilitate the process of Land expropriation without compensation in a just and equitable manner.

The necessary legal infrastructures should, as a matter of principle must be developed to cater for the growing needs of the people, considering the imbalances created by law. Black people, being the original custodians of the Land, should not be at the receiving end of capitalistic means of acquiring what is rightfully theirs.

Featured image | Agricultural land South Africa | wikimedia commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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