As stakeholders hang on by their finger nails, and debates reach record levels, what potential does land expropriation hold for South Africa, and how is the process going to be executed? Being a Zimbabwean who is not a stranger to the aftermath of land redistribution without compensation, this is a story I enjoy telling.
President Ramaphosa promised dialogue and a constitutionally concerned procedure. Whether this guarantees peace is a question best left unanswered, but a wave of fear regarding the sensitivity of the South African economy has swept across society. Fortunately, history has lessons to teach. Here I agree with Edmund Burk when he said, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it”. Before confiscating a single inch of land, the government should study the Zimbabwean events of two decades ago, where violent land seizures left an unmistakable footprint of destruction on the country. South Africa should bear this in mind when eradicating inequality, consciously designing a peaceful approach not to render land a divisive source of conflict.
In a tweet last year, the United States president expressed his grave concern over land reform in South Africa. “I have asked the secretary of state to closely study the South African land and farm seizures and expropriations,” said Trump. Thus I predict the possibility of the United States and European Union collectively imposing economic sanctions on South Africa. The painful result might resonate for years, causing a cataclysmic economic decline. Perhaps the government should see this coming and apply some elbow grease to mitigate risks before it is too late.
Another recipe for disaster might be a decline in agricultural investments. Authur Maloto, Land and Agricultural Development Bank chairman, warns ‘’If expropriation without compensation is poorly executed, it could result in the Land Bank’s sources of funding drying up’’. Those investors willing to lend will demand very high returns to compensate for the increased risks.
Although it is improbable that the above potential afflictions are avoided, I advise all stakeholders not to fear change, but stay candid about the government’s fundamental objective of fixing the Gini coefficient (measure of inequality) which happens to be the current poorest in the world. Solving this will meet the paramount needs of every South African regardless of their political affiliation or race.
On the other hand, I am deeply intrigued by the number of people overdosing on the fact that South Africa will have a catastrophic decline in national output similar in magnitude to that faced by Zimbabwe. Statistics point overwhelmingly to the contrary. Only 13% of South African land is suitable for agriculture, and the whole country depends on 22% of that for high scale commercial farming. Thus South African agriculture contributes no more than 3% to the Gross Domestic Product, this paling in comparison to other sectors like manufacturing, contributing 15%. Any ups or downs in the farming sector can bring no significant change to the economy.
All efforts to expropriate land must be predicated on establishing a better South Africa in agreement with Nelson Mandela’s declaration that it “belongs to everyone who lives in it”. Hopefully there will be no devastating influence from left wing politics lubricated with selfish desires.
John F Kennedy said “Our problems are man-made and therefore they can be solved by man”. I wish South Africa accomplishment in resolving the land dispute.
A lesson can be learnt from other nations that managed to counter a similar dilemma through dialogue, for example Malaysia, where a carefully constructed ‘New Economic Policy’ yielded a spectacular success never heard of in history. They managed to simultaneously raise the proportion of wealth owned by Bumiputras from 4% to 20%, and reduce poverty by at least 43.2% within twenty years. As a result, land in Malaysia is no longer an exclusive domain of the wealthy. Since then, the Malaysian economy has been growing faster than weeds.