Redistributing Private Land Was a Key Issue in South Africa’s Elections

A controversial new opposition party has started to chip away at the ANC's dominance.

by Dexter Thomas and Julia Lindau
May 12 2019, 3:31pm

SOWETO, South Africa — The legacy of Nelson Mandela is constantly invoked in South African politics, and with most of the votes counted from Wednesday’s general election, it likely has helped his party, the African National Congress, to extend their 25-year run as the country’s ruling party.

But a controversial new opposition party has started to chip away at their dominance: The upstart Economic Freedom Fighters party rose from relative obscurity to win nearly 11 percent of the vote this election season. They’ve done so, in part, by positioning themselves as the only party that could finish what Mandela started, all the while constantly attacking the very same ANC that he used to lead.

Both sides were on display at a 40,000-person rally days before the general election, when EFF party leader Julius Malema announced:

“Mandela has handed over the baton to a younger generation! And that younger generation is in the EFF.”

In the same speech, he also had a message for police who were unjustifiably killing young black men: “You want to shoot? Go to parliament! That parliament is full of thugs and criminals. Go and shoot them randomly!”

This wild swing from inspirational reference to Mandela to vaguely threatening messages about one’s political rivals would seem ill-advised. But Malema got cheers for both.

Malema is a controversial figure — he’s been convicted of hate crimes, twice. But for his supporters, he is a chance for change in South Africa.

Twenty-five years after the end of apartheid, white people, who make up less than 10 percent of the population, still own the vast majority of land. Meanwhile, millions of black South Africans are left without access to secure housing or land.

Many blame the African National Congress, which has been plagued with corruption. The ANC does have programs in place to restore land to black families who were dispossessed, but progress has been painfully slow.

The EFF says they have the solution: expropriation without compensation. Or, in other words, taking land away from white farmers, and redistributing it to black farmers.

The idea used to be controversial. But recently, it’s become more mainstream — so much so that the ANC has also begun to publicly speak of plans to amend the Constitution to clearly allow for taking land away from white farmers.

VICE News went to South Africa before the vote to find out how changing attitudes about racial inequality played out in the presidential race.