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Why Land Seizure Is Back in News in South Africa

Aerial view of the city skyline in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Aerial view of the city skyline in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Photographer: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg


More than two decades after white-minority rule ended in South Africa, most of its profitable farms and estates are still owned by white people, and about 95 percent of the country’s wealth is in the hands of 10 percent of the population. The ruling African National Congress has vowed to step up wealth distribution and promised “radical economic transformation,” including constitutional changes to allow the government to expropriate land without paying for it.

Under the rule of European colonists, South Africa’s Natives Land Act of 1913 stripped most black people of their right to own property, a policy reinforced decades later by the National Party and its system of apartheid, or apartness. A government land audit released in February showed that farms and agricultural holdings comprise 97 percent of the 121.9 million hectares of the nation’s area, and that whites own 72 percent of the 37 million hectares held by individuals. This tallies with the results of a separate audit released Nov. 1 by Agri Development Solutions and farm lobby group AGRI SA, which found non-whites own 27 percent of the nation’s farmland compared with 14 percent in 1994.