South Africa must start expropriating land without compensation and return it to the country’s Black majority if it is to speed up socio-economic reform, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said last week as the parliament continues to rewrite a previously approved bill on the matter into law.
The Expropriation Bill would allow the state to take property for public purposes, such as power lines, or if doing so is in the public interest, as in the redistribution of land, the local outlet Eyewitness News reported.
Nkwinti told lawmakers that “an audit of pre-colonial land is needed to fast-track the transfer of land to the Black majority.” The bill was approved by Parliament in May last year and sent to President Jacob Zuma, who has been asked by opposition groups not to sign it into law because it is “unconstitutional.”
The ruling African National Congress, or ANC, has hailed the bill as the start of a new phase of accelerated land reform. The Democratic Alliance, which is the main opposition party in the country, is a key critic of the bill, taking issue with the fact that it would fail to provide compensation to the property and landowners.
Significant tracts of land in the country have been approved for restitution, however, the government has had to pay for this land under the government’s “willing seller, willing buyer” policy of land reform.
The policy has proven slow as the vast majority of land in the country continues to be owned by white South Africans.
Less than 10 percent of white-owned land has been returned to Black owners since the end of apartheid in 1994. The government’s target is at least 30 percent.
Under pressure from opposition parties, President Zuma returned the bill back to Parliament for reconsideration because of fears that it would be struck down in court.
During his State of the Union speech Thursday, Zuma urged Parliament to “move with speed in meeting the requirements so that the law can be finalized to effect transformation.” Meanwhile, Nkwinti warned that if the country did not speed up land transformation “we put reconciliation and South Africa at risk.”
Racial inequality remains a major issue in post-Apartheid South Africa, where Black people earn a sixth of what white people earn in the country, according to census data. Over 20 years after the end of apartheid, most land remains white-owned.
“Inequality is not only still very high in South Africa, but has been rising and in some ways … is even higher today than 20 years ago,” said award-winning economic Thomas Piketty as he delivered Soweto’s annual Nelson Mandela lecture in 2015.
In the same lecture, he too suggested that a radical program of land reform could be the solution to the country’s ills.
“If we take a broad international historical perspective, we see in many countries, in history, much more ambitious land reforms than what we have seen in South Africa since the end of apartheid.
“I think it’s fair to say that Black economic empowerment strategies, which were mostly based on voluntary market transactions … were not that successful in spreading wealth. So I think we need to think again about more ambitious land reform,” he said.