Confirming long-running speculation that South Africa is on its way to becoming just another Zimbabwe, on Tuesday the country's president Cyril Ramaphose said the ruling African National Congress should initiate a parliamentary process to amend the constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.
Back in May, the ANC had said in May it would “test the argument” that land redistribution without compensation is permitted under current laws, a plan that would have avoided the risky strategy of trying to change the constitution. Since then the expropriation movement has only accelerated, and Ramaphosa, who also vowed previously to return the lands owned by the white farmers since the 1600s to the country's black population after he assumed office in February this year, said on Tuesday that the ANC would introduce a constitutional amendment in parliament.
"The ANC will through the parliamentary process finalize the proposed amendment to the constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected” Ramaphosa, a prominent trade union leader and a close associate of Nelson Mandela, said in a televised address on Tuesday.
The billionaire former businessman added that “it has become pertinently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit" about the expropriation proposal, which is viewed by the South African white minority as forceful expulsion that can incite violence against farmers.
As Reuters notes, most land remains in white hands, making it a potent symbol of lingering inequalities 25 years on from the end of apartheid. Since white minority rule ended in 1994, the ANC has followed a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” model whereby the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks. Progress has been slow.
There have been growing fears that the planned expropriation will deal a blow to commercial farming in the country and might put it on the verge of a food production crisis, like the one that struck Zimbabwe when it unleashed a similar crackdown on white farmers in 1999-2000.
Promoting his plan to boost land redistribution in March, Ramaphosa sought to assure white citizens, who constitute roughly nine percent of the total population, that the government would handle the controversial matter through "dialog, discussion, engagement, until we find good solutions that take our country forward."
"There is no reason for anyone of us to panic and start beating war drums," he said at the time, noting that nothing should prevent farming activities from continuing as normal.
However, many of the Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa, do not take the government's promises at face value, instead seeking asylum abroad from what they say is a surge in violence and government-fueled hostility against them.
Rights groups said the initiative incites violence - there were 74 farm murders and 638 attacks, primarily against white farmers, in 2016-17 in South Africa - and while the government doesn't dispute the figures, officials say farmers are victims of crime like just other citizens of the country gripped by violence and that they are not targeted because they are white.
Last month, a call from Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to provide emergency visas for South Africa's white farmers, who are reportedly facing persecution at home, sparked a diplomatic scandal, with the head of the South African opposition labeling Australia "a racist country" for granting refuge to white farmers both in the Mandela era and now.
Boers have also appealed to Russia, seeking to resettle farmers who no longer feel at home in South Africa. A delegation consisting of some 30 South African farming families arrived in Russia's farm belt Stavropol Region last month, asking the local authorities to consider resettling up to 15,000 Boers.
Moving "is a matter of life and death" for them the head of the delegation told the media.
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Meanwhile, South Africa’s economy has barely grown in recent years, with the growth outlook remaining much lower than the 5 percent annual growth government is aiming for to make a dent in near-record unemployment. Tuesday data showed that South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to 27.2% of the labor force in the second quarter from 26.7% in the first quarter.
In other words, South Africa is well on its way to converting itself into a banana republic; as such confiscating the land of the whites appears to be the logical next step.