South Africa will not allow illegal land grabs, new President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday, as the country prepares to expropriate land without compensation following a vote in parliament.
Ramaphosa, who replaced Jacob Zuma as president in February, is under pressure to deliver on promises to speed up land reform after slow progress at redistributing land to the country’s black majority since the end of white minority rule in 1994.
“We cannot have a situation where we allow land grabs, because that is anarchy,” Ramaphosa said in a speech in parliament. “We cannot have a situation of anarchy when we have proper constitutional means through which we can work to give land to our people.”
Since parliament endorsed a motion to change the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation late last month, a Reuters reporter saw people frustrated with the sluggish pace of land reform seizing land outside Pretoria.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has long promised reforms to redress racial disparities in land ownership, but moves to expropriate land without compensation gathered pace after the party formally backed the policy in December.
Ramaphosa has stressed that food production and security in the continent’s biggest maize producer, must not be threatened by land reform.
The land issue in Africa’s most industrialized economy remains highly emotive more than two decades after the end of apartheid as white people still own most of South Africa’s land following centuries of brutal colonial dispossession.
South Africa has a history of colonial conquest and dispossession that pushed the black majority into crowded urban townships and rural reserves.
It has worried some economists and farming groups, which have warned of a potentially devastating impact on the agricultural sector.