South Africa Court Protects Proposal To Legally Seize White-Owned Land

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the plans to allow land seizure without compensation.

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| December 01 2018,

12:37 am

Update (November 30, 2018): South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to oversee the seizure of land owned by the country's white majority and its redistribution to Black citizens. This plan has been met with disdain and anger from white landowners, who went to court over the idea.

According to Reuters, South Africa's High Court shot down the white landowner's case Friday.

“The relief sought by the applicants ... is dismissed,” Judge Vincent Saldanha said.

Afriforum, the consortium mostly comprised of white farmers that brought the suit, was not pleased with the decision and promised to continue its fight against land redistribution. 

"Afriforum, therefore, undertakes to use every possible mechanism at its disposal to, in the interest of everyone in the country, fight to the bitter end against the undermining of property rights,” a spokesperson for the group said.

Lewis Nzimande, who co-chairs the committee reviewing the president's plan, praised the result, on the other hand.

"We welcome the orders handed down today particularly because we’ve always been of the view that the matter was not urgent,” Nzimande said.

As the African News Agency reports, this ruling does not mean land redistribution will now begin.

As Ramaphosa wants to change the country's constitution to provide a legal framework for the plan, South Africa's Parliament must debate and draft those changes. Before that happens, parliamentarians will have to pass a bill outlining the changes they plan to make. And before that happens, Nzimande's committee must present its nonbinding findings to the Parliament.  

"[Lawmakers] may set aside the recommendations, they may reject the recommendations but procedurally ... we can’t just reject the whole work of the committee,” Nzimande said.

Should the Parliament decide to go forward with the redistribution plan, it is likely to have the changes to the constitution ready for Ramaphosa's review next summer.

Original: The tensions between black and white South Africans are growing, with land rights become a critical issue dividing the two groups. While black political power has increased following apartheid's end in 1994, white citizens own the majority of the country's land.

The country's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party had a plan for returning ownership of land to black hands; however, as the BBC reports, only one-tenth of property owned by white people at apartheid's end has been restored to black citizens. The ANC hoped to have 30 percent of white-owned land back under black ownership by now.

Current policy allows the government to purchase white-owned land to redistribute it to black people. Many black South Africans found this scheme distasteful, considering the ancestors of the white South Africans the property was being purchased from took it from the black people living there without paying for it.

South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, rose to power promising to speed up the land transfer and gave his support to a measure by a more radical faction of the government that called for the seizure of white-held land.

As that measure gained steam, Ramaphosa said, "We are going to address this and make sure that we come up with resolutions that resolve this once and for all. This original sin that was committed when our country was colonized must be resolved in a way that will take South Africa forward."

Now, according to Al Jazeera, Ramaphosa and the ANC are moving ahead with plans to amend the constitution to allow white land seizure without compensation.

"It has become pertinently clear that our people want the Constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation as demonstrated in the public hearings," Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday, July 31. "The ANC will go through the parliamentary process to finalise the proposed amendment to the Constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected."

The potential ANC reform concerns some investors who believe stripping land from white farmers will negatively affect the economy. Zimbabwe's economy suffered after land was seized from its white citizens. However, President Ramaphosa assured his citizens South Africa would not meet a similar fate, and that seizures will not lead to food security threats or declining economic growth. 

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