One city outside Johannesburg, South Africa is set to be the “test case” for the process of land redistribution, according to the mayor.
Ekurhuleni’s Executive Mayor Mzwandile Masina — who heads the ruling party’s local African National Congress(ANC)-led coalition — backed the promises of President Cyril Ramaphosa, telling the Associated Press that landowners in South Africa don’t need to be “scared. Our policy is not to take the land by force. Our policy is to make sure the land is shared amongst those that need it... we are not going to expropriate land and keep it for ourselves.”
But, last month, the city council voted in favor of “expropriation without compensation,” a legal tool that the ruling ANC deems necessary to correct the historic injustices of apartheid. Ekurhuleni plans to expropriate about 1.35 square miles of land in the city limits, both private and government-owned.
The Ekurhuleni test case will involve the “release” of land to residents every week. Dikgang Uhuru Moiloa, head of the provincial department of human settlements, says the government is starting the program by redistributing state-owned land but is also looking at privately owned land that is not being used. “We have to be very rational. We can’t just chase people out of land, their livelihoods, and providing food for the nation. We can’t do that. Those that use the land effectively definitely will have to be left to use the land effectively.”
Some 600,000 people, of Ekurhuleni’s four million population, are currently living in “informal settlements” amid a shortage of land available to construct dwellings. But, so far, hundreds of acres of land have been re-appropriated from white South African landowners to build low-cost housing.
In July, Ramaphosa drew global criticism and sparked panic among white South Africans after remarking that the ANC planned to amend the constitution to allow expropriation without compensation.
United States President Donald Trump added fuel to the fire after making erroneous declarations, on social media, that South Africa had begun seizing farms and that high numbers of farmers were being killed.
The ANC then reassured people, both inside and outside South Africa, that — though efforts are being made to ensure the majority of black South Africans have better access to land — the process will be legal, before adding that there should not be cause for alarm.
“You can’t guarantee the outcome,” Ben Cousins, research chair in poverty, land and agrarian studies at the University of Western Cape, countered. “The court may find you do have to pay some level of compensation. It could backfire quite badly.”
Almost 25 years after white-minority rule supposedly ended, white South Africans — who make up eight percent of the population — still hold the majority of private properties. And, as a result of the disproportionate black-white landownership ratio, South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world.
Ramaphosa has said everyone should “relax” because the land reform process will “end up very well.”