Government sanctioned land expropriation is central in South Africa’s upcoming election

On May 8, South Africa will hold its sixth general election since the end of the apartheid system in 1994, in what is being called the most important election since the birth of democracy 25 years ago. President Cyril Ramaphosa of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will likely retain power if the ANC holds onto its political dominance.

Currently, there is factional infighting amongst all leading parties and a general loss of faith amongst the nation’s electorate. The vote will elect members of the National Assembly (which forms the basis for national administration), provincial legislatures in each province (which determines provincial government rule), and who will become the next President of South Africa. 48 parties will seek to earn support from nearly 27 million voters.

A generation after white minority rule ended in 1994, efforts by the governing ANC to address persistent racial disparities in housing, land ownership, and services are failing. South Africa’s economy has hardly grown over the past decade and government revenue continues to come in below estimates. In a number of townships across the country, residents have taken to the streets in recent months to demand land, houses, sanitation infrastructure, water, and electricity. President Ramaphosa, who took office last year, has promised to accelerate land redistribution, improve service delivery, and build a million houses over five years. Public anger has been aggravated by perceptions that some government officials and their business allies are growing rich from corruption. A spokesman for the police’s elite “Hawks” unit said it was investigating allegations of tender irregularities in a number of municipal housing and other improvement projects but did not provide details.

In 2018, President Ramaphose, who was a prominent trade union leader and a close associate of Nelson Mandela, said the ruling ANC should initiate a parliamentary process to amend the constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. "The ANC will through the parliamentary process finalize the proposed amendment to the constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected” the billionaire former businessman said, adding that “it has become pertinently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit" about the expropriation proposal, which is viewed by the South African white minority as forceful expulsion that can incite violence against farmers.

The motion was brought forward by Julius Malema, who is the leader of the radical Marxist opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. It passed by a wide margin of 241 votes to 83 against. Mr. Malema has gained notoriety for his outspoken views towards South Africa’s white population and previously been convicted of hate speech for singing the apartheid-era struggle song “Shoot the Boer” – Boer means farmer for the Dutch. Mr. Malema has described land seizures as “teaching whites a lesson” and wants ownership to closer reflect South Africa’s population, where 80 percent of people describe themselves as black African, 8 percent white, and 9 percent as “coloured”. Mr. Malema told the parliament, “The time for reconciliation is over. Now is the time for justice. We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land.

The Boer farmers have owned their land since the 1600s, which was uninhabited prior to that. The broad public consensus that most privately owned land remains in white hands, with a few thousand white commercial farmers possessing the most fertile lands, makes it a potent symbol of wider economic disparities. According to a 2017 government audit, white people own 72 percent of farmland where white South Africans own 24 percent and the remainder is held by private enterprises. Black South Africans directly own 1 percent of the country’s rural land. Approximately 10 percent of land in white ownership has been transferred to black owners since the end of apartheid, which is only a third of the ANC's target.

South Africa’s High Court recently rejected a legal challenge brought by AfriForum, a civil rights group representing the white Afrikaner minority, against President Ramaphosa’s plans for land expropriation without compensation. The government was accused of drawing up a list of almost 200 farms it allegedly wants to seize from white farmers and a document was being circulated by ministers as the ruling powers prepare to implement the policy.

A record number of white South African farmers have put their land up for sale amid fears the ruling party is considering confiscating properties bigger than 25,000 acres. White farmers in South Africa are being targeted in a series of brutal attacks over land that are being overlooked by police and implicitly encouraged by the country’s parliament. Activist groups promoting the rights of white people in the country claim one farmer is murdered every five days, on average, and that South African authorities are tacitly approving attacks by turning a blind eye to the violence.

South Africa has the highest rape rate in the world and the second highest murder rate. Since the official state census in 1996, more than 400,000 white South Africans have left the country. There were roughly 128,000 commercial farmers in South Africa in 1980 but today there are only 40,000 commercial farmers left in South Africa. Since 1994, conservative estimates cite more than 70,000 white South Africans have been murdered, of which more than 4,000 were commercial farmers; exact figures are difficult to come by as the South African police fail to report most of the murders that take place. Many of the murders involve hideous torture, including rape, without charges or arrests to follow.