Cape Town, South Africa: 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 told parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday, pledging that individual property rights will be strengthened.
“We want the rapid release of publicly owned land. I believe we can embark on a very positive process.” Ramaphosa said.
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.
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.
President Cyril Ramaphosa unequivocally distanced himself from the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) position on the nationalisation of land.
Ramaphosa said it was decided at a recent Cabinet lekgotla that the state should embark on a process of rapidly releasing land which belonged to it. He said there is a great deal of land in municipalities which should be released as serviced stands.
In a follow-up question, EFF leader Julius Malema said the state must own all the land – including the wealthy Cape Town suburbs of Hout Bay and Camps Bay.
“This thing of title deeds is a setup,” Malema said.
He said those who propose that people be given title deeds know they are poor and will sell their land, which means the wealthy can buy it back.
He asked if Ramaphosa agrees that land should be nationalised.
Ramaphosa said Malema’s concern that beneficiaries of title deeds will sell their land was a “false fear” and said he did not support nationalisation.
“People given title deeds become so proud that they own something they built with their own hands,” he said.
“Yes!” shouted some DA MPs.
“We should not rob our people from this deep yearning and quest to own their own property,” Ramaphosa continued.
He said land reform must empower people.
Ramaphosa was pleased that there was “growing agreement” in the country that the racially skewed pattern of land ownership must be altered.
He praised the largest farmer’s organisation, AgriSA, for saying that colonialism and apartheid had been “really bad for land ownership” in the country.
“They say: ‘We want to correct the injustices of the past’.”
Ramaphosa met with representatives of AgriSA on Tuesday.
He criticised those “spreading lies and rumours” like conservative lobby group AfriForum, who went “overseas saying the ANC is after a land grab”.
Ramaphosa insisted, as he had done since the ANC adopted a resolution at its conference in December, that the process must be orderly.
The initial questions were posed by Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.
Maimane asked if the ANC’s announcement on July 31 that it will support amending Section 25 of the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation undermined the parliamentary process of considering if the section must be amended.
Ramaphosa said he made the announcement as ANC president, just like other leaders of political parties made a pronouncement about the issue, including Maimane himself.
He said the decision was informed by the views of the people at the Joint Constitution Review Committee’s public hearings, and also ANC members.
He said the ANC “seeks to make explicit what is currently implicit in the Constitution” – that land can be expropriated without compensation.
“The intention of the proposed amendment is to strengthen the property rights of all South Africans,” he said.
He said the debate about expropriation without compensation “unleashed a wonderful process in the country”.
“The question of land is not going to go away. We must transform land or property ownership in our country. That goes without saying. It must be underpinned by development,” said Ramaphosa, adding that land reform must grow the agricultural sector. We must do it (land reform) in a way that shall enhance stability in our country.”
He said South Africans shouldn’t be afraid of the process to change the pattern of land ownership.
FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said expropriation without compensation would not speed up land reform.
“The farmers’ message is that they are not going to leave their land freely,” he said.
Ramaphosa answered Groenewald mostly in Afrikaans. He said what needed to be achieved in South Africa was transformation, development and stability.
“If we don’t have transformation, we won’t have stability,” he said. There was a historic injustice. That wound continues to fester.” 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.”
The U.S. State Department issued a statement Wednesday on South Africa moving to expropriate largely white-owned farmland, offering assurances that the country was engaged in an “open process.”
And then President Trump promptly undid the statement and said he’d ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to review the program, which he harshly criticized as mass murder.
“I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers,” Trump tweeted.
In a statement the State Department said its officials were “aware of these reports and have been following this issue very closely for some time.”
“South Africa is a strong democracy with resilient institutions including a free press and an independent judiciary,” said the statement. “South Africans are grappling with the difficult issue of land reform through an open process of including public hearings, broad-based consultations, and active civil society engagement.”
The statement concluded: “President [Cyril] Ramaphosa has pledged that the land reform process will follow the rule of law and its implementation will not adversely affected economic growth, agricultural production, or food security.”
The South African president’s office will seek an explanation from the US Embassy about President Donald Trump’s tweet on land reform, the state broadcaster SABS reported.
“The presidency has noted Trump’s tweet, which is misinformed in our view. We will take up the matter through diplomatic channels,” President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman said.