After South Africa's embattled president Jacob Zuma pledged, in a surprising address to parliament one month ago, to break up white ownership of business and land to reduce inequality (in a State of the Nation address which was disrupted by a fistfight), it now appears that Zuma's intentions to convert what was until recently Africa's most prosperous economy into a new Zimbabwe were all too real, and as the Telegraph reports, the South African president officially called on parliament to change South Africa’s constitution to allow the expropriation of white owned land without compensation.
Zuma, 74, who made the remarks in a speech on Friday morning, said he wanted to establish a “pre-colonial land audit of land use and occupation patterns” before changing the law.
“We need to accept the reality that those who are in parliament where laws are made, particularly the black parties, should unite because we need a two-thirds majority to effect changes in the constitution,” he said.
In recent months, Zuma, who has lurched from one scandal to another since being elected to office in 2009, has adopted a more populist tone since his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party suffered its worst election result last August since the end of apartheid in 1994. The party lost the economic hub of Johannesburg, the capital Pretoria and the coastal city of Port Elizabeth to the moderate Democratic Alliance party, which already held the city of Cape Town.
The ANC is also under pressure from the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema. Malema has been travelling the country urging black South Africans to take back land from white invaders and "Dutch thugs". He told parliament this week that his party wanted to “unite black people in South Africa” to expropriate land without compensation.
“People of South Africa, where you see a beautiful land, take it, it belongs to you,” he said. Although progress has been made in transferring property to black South Africans, land ownership is believed to be skewed in favour of whites more than 20 years after the end of apartheid. The Institute of Race Relations, an independent research body, said that providing a racial breakdown of South Africa’s rural landowners was “almost impossible."
“In the first place the state owns some 22 per cent of the land in the country, including land in the former homelands, most of which is occupied by black subsistence farmers who have no title and seem unlikely to get it any time soon,” the group said. “This leaves around 78 per cent of land in private hands, but the race of these private owners is not known.”
As the Telegraph adds, Zuma’s comments caused outrage among groups representing Afrikaans speaking farmers on Friday.
The Boer Afrikaner Volksraad, which claims to have 40,000 members, said its members would take land expropriation without compensation as “a declaration of war”.
“We are ready to fight back,” said Andries Breytenbach, the group’s chairman. “We need urgent mediation between us and the government. "If this starts, it will turn into a racial war which we want to prevent.” As noted above, Zuma first mentioned the expropriation of land in his opening of Parliament speech last month, but Friday was the first time he called for a change in the law.
In his February speech, he controversially called in the military to maintain “law and order” on the streets of Cape Town ahead of expected protests calling for him to step down.
It was the first time in South Africa’s history, including the heavily militarised apartheid era, that the president has ordered the military to provide security at parliament.
Meanwhile, the populist wave is spreading and as discussed at the end of February, the local police had to fire rubber bullets into a crowd after anti-immigrant protests turned violent in the capital Pretoria.
President Zuma’s aggressive move toward redistribution comes as his African National Congress party prepares to elect a new leader to succeed him in December and as he finds himself under growing pressure over corruption allegations. It is disturbing that in order to deflect from his own failings as president, Zuma is willing to risk an economic fate reminiscent that of its neighbor to the north, Zimbabwe, where shortly after a similar confiscation of what land, the economy disintegrated into a hyperinflationary supernova.
It took Zimbabwe 15 years to admit its mistakes, and invite white farmers back. It now appears that South Africa will have to learn from the mistakes of its northern neighbor in due course.