The debate about land redistribution in South Africa has been a passionate one, as many South African cities face a housing crunch that has left hundreds of thousands of people living in informal settlements. Just as this debate is starting to reach a fever pitch, one South African city, Ekurhuleni, is about to embark on what mayor Mzwandile Masina calls “a test case” for the nation: the government is going to seize hundreds of acres of land, from white citizens without paying for it, to build low-cost housing.
Last month, the city voted in favor of pushing forward with “expropriation without compensation”. According to ABC News, this was cited by the African National Congress as a legal rule that is necessary in order to distribute land equitably and correct “historic injustices” that took place in the country.
The mayor of Ekurhuleni stated the same thing, saying that landowners in South Africa should not be scared. Mayor Masina told AP: “Our policy is not to take the land by force. Our policy is to make sure the land is shared amongst those that need it.” It was unclear what those whom the land is taken from thought about this policy.
The total amount of land that’s going to be expropriated amounts to about 865 acres. The land is both private and government owned, and some of it has been vacant for decades. Masina, who heads the local ANC-led coalition, did not specify which landowners will be hit be the measure.
The internationally debated land reform was approved by South Africa’s ruling party to address the historic injustices of apartheid, and distribute land among the population more equitably. According to the country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, over 77 percent of South African farms and agricultural holdings are owned by white citizens with only four percent of lands belonging to black South Africans. White citizens make up just nine percent of the country’s population, while black citizens account for 76 percent. This, to the ruling regime, is a green light to repossess land that has been owned by white citizens, in many cases for generations.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said in July that the ANC had planned to amend the constitution in order to allow this expropriation despite the fact that many are concerned that it could destabilize the country and send the economy into a tailspin. To address this, the ANC has been working to reassure people that what they’re doing is legal and should not be worrisome. Quoted by ABC, Ramaphosa said that everyone should “relax” about this process and that “it would end up very well”.
As reported previously, this land redistribution is being done to address people awaiting government assistance who are forced to live in “horrible” conditions. The city expects to be taken to court after it notifies private landowners that it is going to try and seize their land. This is apparently part of the plan, as the city seems to feel as though it could be victorious in court.
Ben Cousins, research chair in poverty, land and agrarian studies at the University of Western Cape told ABC News: “You can’t guarantee the outcome. The court may find you do have to pay some level of compensation. It could backfire quite badly.”
And Masina is literally laying it all on the line with this decision; as a result of it, the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has tabled a motion of no confidence in the Mayor to be heard October 25. The case study of Ekurhuleni is supposed to figure out how such land redistribution could take hold in other areas, including urban areas, where demand for land is also intense.
Dikgang Uhuru Moiloa, head of the provincial department of Human Settlements, told ABC News: “We have to be very rational. We can’t just chase people out of land, their livelihoods, and providing food for the nation. We can’t do that. Those that use the land effectively definitely will have to be left to use the land effectively.”
There are now more than 1.2 million South Africans that are waiting for government subsidized housing and the backlog continues to grow. More than 11,000 people live in settlements despite registering for government housing as early as the late 1990s. Meanwhile, an exodus of white landowners is quietly fleeing the country amid fears that in addition to having their land confiscated, they may soon be the victims of violence following repeated threats by Julius Malema, aka the Hitler of South Africa, telling white people that he “won’t kill them… yet.”