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Expropriations forced in South Africa: an air of Zimbabwe?

In South Africa, for the past year, the thorny issue of land redistribution has come to the fore in this election period.

By Narcisse Oredje.
An article from Libre Afrique

On March 23, 2019, when he handed over the title deeds to the descendants of the members of the Griquas tribe, expropriated in the 1920s, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the acceleration of the process of agrarian reform promising expropriations without compensation. to redistribute land to blacks.

For a year, the thorny issue of land redistribution returns to the forefront in this period marked by the campaign for the elections of May 8. Referring to the case of Zimbabwe, what does the Rainbow Nation risk by introducing such a policy?

Political motivations at the expense of economic logic

Officially, the South African government is considering land expropriation without compensation to increase productivity and ensure food security. From the already seen with Mugabe's Zimbabwe that made these agrarian reforms his workhorse throughout his reign.

That being said, deconstructing a system that generates more than 10 billion rand a year to replace it would be madness. The failure of Zimbabwe is there to testify. The project of expropriation of the lands does not date from today but the chosen moment and the procedure exude the political diversion.

Like Mugabe, the ANC instrumentalizes the agrarian reform to restore its reputation among its voters, especially after the corruption scandals (case of Jacob Zuma) that tarnished the image of the old black party. The ANC is also trying to position itself to counter the rise of the radical party Economic Freedom Figthers, great advocate of this cause. In other words, it is not the access of blacks to land ownership that preoccupies the leaders of the ANC, but rather the safeguarding of their power.

The risk of falling agricultural production in South Africa

White farmers, who own about 73 percent of the land, alone account for more than 80 percent of agricultural production in South Africa. They allow the state, through commercial agriculture, to generate several billion rand but also to support more than 160,000 black workers and their families.

Removing land from these men who feed South Africans through their productivity and who provide the bulk of agricultural raw materials to industries amounts to unbalancing the entire ecosystem with a real risk of destabilizing the South African economy.

In Zimbabwe, following similar measures taken by Mugabe's government, agricultural production soon fell. For example, tobacco revenues increased from $ 400 million to $ 105 million in just three years (2000 to 2003). In terms of food Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa, but in just ten years (1998 to 2008), about 5 million citizens, or half of the population, now need food aid.

This crisis was closely linked to the decline in cereal production, notably maize and wheat, which recorded decreases of 28% and 40%, respectively, in 2007. This production deficit can be explained by several other related factors than the project. expropriation of land did not take into account.

Lack of skills of black producers

In Zimbabwe, the land reforms initiated exposed the inability of black farmers to take over from white farmers, who alone produced about 70 percent of annual agricultural production. Worse, the reforms were actually to wrest the land from the whites and redistribute them, not to the poor, but – and especially the best lots – to political leaders close to the government, usually veterans of the war of independence, and a small minority of black peasants without sufficient resources to do better than whites.

Finally, the land remained unexploited, causing the decline in production. Like Zimbabwe, South Africa faces the same fate. All blacks claim these lands when they do not have the skills and even less the will necessary to replace the white producers.

In Zimbabwe, land was redistributed to blacks, but they lacked adequate infrastructure and funding, let alone water to produce. It is for this reason that they all resold these lands that were not worth much for them.

Antisocial infringement of property rights

Seizing land by force without compensation to landowners is a serious violation of the fundamental property rights granted to white farmers since independence. With such a reform, the signal sent to future investors is negative because they will have no guarantee that their assets and assets will be secure.

But fleeing both local and foreign investors will jeopardize the creation of wealth and jobs in South Africa. As a reminder, their withdrawal during the reforms in Zimbabwe precipitated the collapse of the agricultural economy. More than 35,000 agricultural workers are unemployed due to the ruin of formerly productive agricultural farms. In total, more than 800,000 people are directly dependent on white farmers who have been without sources of income.

The economy took a fatal blow with a 40% fall in GDP in ten years (1998 to 2008). A sensible reform to solve the problems of the mass becomes worse than the problem of departure. Food insecurity and unemployment are two plausible risks that could force South Africans into exile, as was the case for most Zimbabweans.

In short, the land expropriation project in South Africa is political manipulation and not socio-economic reform. The collapse of the Zimbabwean economy should serve as an example to the South African ruling class. If an agrarian reform is necessary, it must not be implemented to the detriment of the respect of the property rights, which constitute the foundations of any economy. Their non-compliance inevitably leads to the collapse of the entire economy, like Zimbabwe.

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