South Africa‘s parliament has passed a motion that could lead to the seizure of land from white farmers without paying them compensation.
Passed by an overwhelming majority of 241 votes to 83 votes against, the proposal to amend Section 25 of the constitution would allow expropriation of land without any financial recompense.
It was put forward by the radical left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, whose leader Julius Malema told the country's parliament: “We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land.”
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) amended but supported the motion. The party has promised reforms to address the racial disparities in land ownership which persist more than two decades after the end of apartheid.
South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said he would speed up the transfer of land from white to black owners after his inauguration two weeks ago.
But he stressed it must be conducted in a manner which preserved food production and security.
Speaking to the National Council of Provinces in televised remarks earlier this week, Mr Ramaphosa said he wants talks on the contentious topic to avoid panic.
But he said he aimed to resolve the issue of racial disparities in property ownership "once and for all."
"I will shortly initiate a dialogue with key stakeholders," he said, adding: "There is no need for any one of us to panic and start beating war drums.
"We are going to address this and make sure that we come up with resolutions that resolve this once and for all. This original sin that was committed when our country was colonised must be resolved in a way that will take South Africa forward."
Parliament instructed a committee to review the constitution and report back by 30 August.
The ANC’s deputy chief whip, Dorries Dlakude, said the party “recognises that the current policy instruments, including the willing-buyer willing-seller policy and other provisions of section 25 of the constitution may be hindering effective land reform.”
The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance party (DA) opposed the motion, arguing changes to Section 25 will undermine property rights and scare off potential investors.
The DA’s Thandeka Mbabama told parliament expropriation without compensation was a way to divert attention from the failure by successive ANC-led governments to get to grips with the issue.
Critics have compared the move to the disastrous redistribution of land in neighbouring Zimbabwe, which was often accompanied by violence and left farms neglected.
In South Africa, corruption and lack of training for farmers remain obstacles to land redistribution.
The government’s land reform policy has been criticised over the years as many farms transferred to emerging black farmers lay fallow and unproductive.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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