South Africa’s parliament has cleared the way for a constitutional amendment that would let the government seize land from white landowners without compensation, raising concerns about potential economic catastrophe in the name of racial justice.
In a 241 to 83 vote earlier this week, lawmakers approved the motion brought by the radical Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party as part of a so-called “land reform” program to even the disparity in ownership between South Africa’s black majority and white minority.
“We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land,” EFF leader Julius Malema told parliament ahead of the vote.
Newly elected South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reassured lawmakers Thursday that “there will be no smash and grab” of white-owned land, saying that any redistribution program would be done in a way that does not disrupt normal farming operations. His party, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), widely supports an amendment authorizing expropriation.
But some lawmakers in the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, along with agricultural economists, worry that South Africa is about to take the same path pursued by its neighbor, Zimbabwe, which initiated its own mass land expropriation program in the early 2000s. Under the direction of former dictator Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe seized and redistributed land from about 4,000 white farmers to landless blacks in an effort to compensate them for years of colonial rule.