South Africa‘s recent controversy has drawn international attention as they have passed a new bill, essentially authorizing the confiscation of land owned by white people and subsequent redistribution to black South Africans. It has been called “land expropriation without compensation” and the bill passed in the house, 241 voting yes and 83 voting no. The bill has until August 30th before it takes effect, and just how authorities will implement this controversial (and likely volatile) bill is yet to be seen.
Segregation has been deeply rooted in South Africa‘s history for a long time. Many of those considered foreigners or colonists come from families that have lived there since the Dutch colonists in the 17th century. Despite the distance from colonization, apartheid (institutionalized, racial segregation that, by law, separated blacks and whites in all facets of society) existed from 1948 to 1991 — this is more recent. Though there has since been significant change in law and policy, the economic disparity in South Africa remains worse than almost anywhere in the world. When it comes to land, 70% of the country’s land is owned by whites — only 9.1% of the country is white. Approximately 76% of South Africa is black, and 90% of the country’s impoverished people are black as well. This is the same across the board when it comes to the economy and unemployment, undoubtedly fueling the disdain between races, even though apartheid is officially over.
When apartheid ended, the South African government added to their constitution. They said that they would buy land from white land owners at a fair price, which generally meant at or above market price. Then, they expected, the disparity would eventually equalize. Their goal was to “take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.” Until recently, this is the way it was done.
However, the disparity remained and many black South Africans have expressed their frustration. The government even admitted that the goals were out of reach, and it was possible that this redistribution may not happen under these terms. However, any thoughts toward forcing white land owners to give up their land without payment would be shot down by the rewritten, post-apartheid constitution.
So, to combat this, Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighter political party, proposed the bill that has recently passed, changing the constitution and allowing the siezure of land and redistribution toward black South African citizens. Malema said that, “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.” This same Malema has been mired in controversy in the past for hate speech, particularly against white South African, Afrikaans-speaking farmers.
This all comes during a slew of violence toward these white, Afrikaans-speaking farmers in South Africa. There have been reports of attacks, rapes and murders, which have seen a steady rise in recent years. Some have taken to social media, saying that they are on the cusp of a legitimate genocide of whites in the area — others believe that this might be an exaggeration. There is no doubt that tensions are still on the rise.
Many are concerned that these forcible redistribution efforts will wind up the same way as Zimbabwe. After they began their efforts, redistribution was complete by 2013 and every formerly white owned farm was handed over or in the process. However, redistribution does not mean that those endowed with the responsibility of keeping the farm know anything about farming. In Zimbabwe, this lead to a massive shortage of food, and even went on to famine and starvation. The economy there suffered greatly as well; the president Mnangagwa said that, “Our economy is struggling, unemployment is high, our youth lack opportunities, too many people are unable to afford essential goods for their families and our infrastructure is stuck in the past,” and many fear the same fate for South Africa.
Featured image: African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema, center, sings with his supporter after his appearance at the high court in Johannesburg, South Africa on Wednesday April. 20, 2011. Malema says the trial “has helped to shed some light,” allowing him to explain why whites should not be offended when he sings “shoot the boer.” | AP Photo/Themba Hadebe