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South Africa is trying to stop paying white farmers when it takes their land

The country already allows land seizure, known as expropriation, but the constitution requires that the owners receive payment.

by Michael Kalenderian and Dan Ming
Mar 1 2018, 4:30pm

Right now in South Africa, white people own 72 percent of the country's farmland, even though they're just 8 percent of the population.

But the country's government wants to change that. In an effort to redistribute the land more evenly, South Africa’s parliament advanced a motion Tuesday to allow the government to seize people's land — without compensation. The country already allows land seizure, known as expropriation, but the constitution requires that the owners receive payment.

The African National Congress made restoring land lost during apartheid a top priority when the party came into power in 1994. At the time, officials had promised to redistribute 30 percent of white-owned farmland to blacks in five years.

To date, around 10 percent has been transferred.

“The reality is we did have legislation in place during apartheid that prevented black people from acquiring land in certain spaces,” South African journalist and lawyer Anele Nzimande told VICE News. “Apartheid wasn’t just a political system that prevented black people from voting; it also dispossessed people of their land.”

In an unusual move during Tuesday’s motion, the ruling African National Congress supported one of its rivals, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party, which introduced the bill. Newly appointed President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to ensure transfers would be handled responsibly and said the government would not allow “smash and grab” interventions.

Critics say these land transfers would undermine property rights and could destabilize the economy, while supporters argue it’s a necessary step toward justice. The Constitutional Review Committee now has until the end of August to report back to parliament on whether the constitution should be amended.