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Land Reform ‘Key’ for South Africa Economic Stability, ANC Says

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  • Party must act decisively on land to avert unrest: spokesman
  • Land set to feature prominently in ANC policy proposals

South Africa’s ruling party will accelerate the transfer of land to the black majority to help reduce inequality and avert future protests, the African National Congress’s spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.

“If you don’t deal decisively with the issue of land, you may have to deal with a bigger problem,” Kodwa said in an interview at the party’s head office in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

President Jacob Zuma has vowed to step up wealth distribution in South Africa in his final year as head of the ANC, promising “radical economic transformation,” including constitutional changes to allow the government to expropriate land without paying for it. While his comments contradict the stance taken by ANC lawmakers, who say the process can take place without amending the constitution, the party favors accelerated land reform.

“When we talk about radical economic transformation, it’s about the stability of the country going forward,” Kodwa said. “In the absence of that, you may be sitting with instability in the future and land is at the center. It is key.”

More than two decades after the end of white-minority rule, South Africa continues to struggle with persistently high unemployment and one of the world’s widest rates of inequality. About 95 percent of the country’s wealth is in the hands of 10 percent of the population, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said in his budget speech last month.

Land is expected to feature prominently in the ANC’s policy documents that will be released on March 12, ahead of a party conference in June. Decisions taken at that meeting will guide the state’s strategy.

The government previously proposed banning foreign ownership of agricultural land and limiting the size of farms people can have. It also said that it’s considering buying half of every farm and giving it to farm workers to operate in joint ventures with the previous owners.

The transfer of land ownership to the black majority will be quicker if people and companies that have under-utilized properties approach the government to negotiate a fair exchange, Enoch Godongwana, the head of ANC’s economic transformation committee, said in the same interview.

“The problem is people tend to attack whatever we say,” he said. “They simply insult us, instead of saying ‘we want a smooth way of making sure this land redistribution happens.’ It’s going to happen.”

Dissent within the ruling party is growing after it had its worst yet showing in election in last year’s municipal vote, losing control of major cities including Johannesburg, the commercial hub, and Pretoria, the capital. Zuma is due to step down as ANC leader in December and as president in 2019.