South Africa and Land Redistribution: Justice or Victimisation?

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Although the apartheid rule has officially ended in South Africa 24 years ago, following the country’s independence and the release of the former President Nelson Mandela, the global symbol of peace and moral authority from prison, white South Africans, who make up just 9% of the country’s population, still own 72% of the farmland held by individuals, according to the government’s statistics. This economic disequilibrium has given rise to calls for a fair and equitable land redistribution.

While many black South Africans and some non-blacks alike have voiced their opposition to the wealth imbalance, especially in the area of land ownership, in South Africa and have called for an impartial, reasonable redistribution of the land, most white South Africans are, on the other hand, vehemently against any alteration of the status quo. Although the previous governing African National Congress (ANC) promised but failed to execute the land ownership reform, the present President Cyril Ramaphosa led government seems more determined to fulfil its land redistribution promise. It does not help that even the opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters under Julius Malema is even more passionate about the expropriation of land; they have strongly voiced their readiness to initiate radical, but fair land redistribution, if elected into office, a stand which has attracted more sympathies amongst the black community. Now that the call for the land redistribution is getting louder than before and the belief that both the ruling ANC and opposition EFF share a common determination to carry out their threat, many white South Africans are increasingly glittering and some of them are said to fear a repeat of the Zimbabwean-like land grab under former President Mugabe in South Africa.

According to the latest figures from the World Bank, South Africa, Namibia and Haiti rank among the most unequal countries in terms of income distribution. Alternatively, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Norway are amongst the most equal nations in the world. The redistribution of land was one of the main important tasks of the governing African National Congress (ANC) during its struggle against the White dominated apartheid rule. So far, a mere 10% of land in white ownership has been redistributed to black owners. Many black South Africans have demanded that the government quicken the land redistribution process in order to correct the historical injustice in the country. South African President Ramaphosa has recently acknowledged the slow pace of the land reform and promised to fasten the process albeit in a fair and orderly manner. The President re-emphasised that his government would not encourage any form of land grabbing like in Zimbabwe.
Not everyone is convinced. White South Africans, many of them farmers, have been lobbying other Western countries to put pressure on the South African government to reconsider its anticipated land redistribution policy. The lobbying seems to have started bearing fruits. In March, Australia government made what some considered a controversial statement, which it said it was considering offering South Africa’s white farmers access to fast-track visas on humanitarian grounds amid fears over the number of “farm killings.” The statement generated sharp criticisms from South Africa’s government, which vehemently maintained that there were no such killings of White farmers in South Africa. The strong response from South Africa’s government did not stop the recent twitter message from the USA President Donald Trump, who retaliated the alleged “killings of the White farmers in South Africa.”

The latest allegation from President Trump has infuriated a storm of angry reactions from critics who warned that such an allegation would only cause unnecessary tension and suspicion in an already imbalanced and strained relationship between the White and Black South Africans. Sadly, both the ruling ANC party and the opposition are now more than ever determined to start the land redistribution, arguing that they would not be intimidated by Mr. Trump and his remarks.

“It’s absolute rubbish to say there’s white genocide. There’s black genocide in the USA. They’re killing black people in the USA.” Julius Malema thundered.

The reality is that South Africa has not changed its constitution since 1994 the ANC government started it’s “willing-buyer-willing-seller” land redistribution policy. Furthermore, the latest BBC Reality Check investigation found no reliable data to support the allegation that White farmers were victims of land grab killings nor are they at greater risk of being murdered than the average South African, according to the BBC investigation.

Despite the latest investigations which have proved the murder allegation of the White South Africans baseless and wrong, the issue of land redistribution in South Africa has never been so controversial, combatant and divisive as before. Supporters of the policy point out that the improper land distribution legacies of the apartheid era must be corrected urgently for the sake of equity and fairness. They lamented that it is unfair and immoral that the natives, the blacks should be denied their ancestral inheritance and kept economically slaves to the White minority even after the apartheid regime. Furthermore, they insisted that land redistribution is, morally, economically, socially and constitutionally a right action to take. However, opponents insist that the White farmers are the legal owners of the land, as such, the government does not have any legal power to redistribute the land to the poor blacks. They equally point out the negative consequences of the land grab in Zimbabwe, which many blame for the economic disaster in the country, because many new black farm owners in that country could not transcend the ownership of land to a high agricultural production; a reality, which led to the devastating economic doom of Zimbabwe, they argue.

Will the ANC ruling party’s land redistribution policy lead to a fair economic redistribution of resources and reduce the country’s huge income inequality and poverty? Will it correct the sad apartheid legacies? Or will it be a policy of injustice aimed at victimizing the white South Africans? More than anything, will the policy result to the economic boom or strangulation, which perhaps might lead to the country’s economic collapse?

Perhaps, both the supporters and opponents of the South Africa land redistribution policy may have to consider asking themselves these questions before it is too late.