South African White Farmers' Land to Be Seized in Controversial Land Redistribution Claim

The South African government has begun the process of seizing land from owners in cases where the negotiation for compensation has stalled. Two game farms in Limpopo province are being targeted after the government offered the owners one-tenth of the asking price.

The process moved forward after negotiations with the white owners of the properties stalled, according to South Africa's City Press newspaper. Akkerland Boerdery, the company of property owners Johan Steenkamp and Arnold Cloete, demanded 200 million rand ($13.7 million) for the land, but is being offered just 20 million rand ($1.37 million).

Earlier this year, Akkerland Boerdery was sent notice that an inspection of the properties would be held in order to audit their value before being handed over to the state.

Steenkamp told Newsweek that the decision was delivered on very short notice during a long weekend of South African public holidays in March. The notice demanded that the keys to the farm be handed over within seven days, forcing them to seek legal representation and file an urgent application to the courts.

The owners obtained an injunction to hold off eviction until a court had ruled on the case. The application was opposed by the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs.

Mashile Mokono, head of the department, said via City Press that the government was committed to speeding up land-reform policies, adding that Land Reform Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane signed another two final orders to expedite the seizure.

Mokono said this was not a case of expropriation without compensation, but the courts would have to decide on what "just and equitable" compensation is.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa (right) is congratulated during his swearing-in ceremony at the Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 15. In July, Ramaphosa said the country would continue with plans to change the constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation. MIKE HUTCHINGS/AFP/Getty Images

According to City Press, South African government documents from 2006 show that a claim by the Musekwa tribe was lodged against Akkerland Boerdery in 1996, which the owners are disputing. Meanwhile, an attempt to purchase the land was made by Coal of Africa (now MC Mining) for the Makhado mining project.

"What makes the Akkerland case unique is that they apparently were not given the opportunity to first dispute the claim in court, as the law requires," AgriSA, a union that largely represents white farm owners, said through spokeswoman Annelize Crosby.

In May, the country's ruling African National Congress said it would "test the argument" that land redistribution without compensating owners was allowed under current law, Al Jazeera reported.

That would have prevented the riskier process of trying to amend the South African constitution to do so. However, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took office in February, said at the end of July that the country would go ahead with plans to change the constitution.

"It has become pertinently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation as demonstrated in the public hearings," Ramaphosa said.

Twenty-five years since the end of the apartheid system, which saw the majority-black South African population treated as second-class citizens and denied basic rights, most land in the country remains in the hands of white owners. Land reform efforts began when apartheid ended, but the reality of continued white ownership is a lingering reminder of inequality in the country.

Farmers and some investors have opposed land seizures, arguing that it could negatively impact the country's already struggling economy. In recent years, South Africa's economic growth has slowed significantly, falling well below the 5 percent annual growth the government hopes for. Unemployment in the country has also reached near record highs, according to Al Jazeera.

Afriforum, a group representing South Africa's white Afrikaner minority, released what it claimed to be a list of 190 farms the government is targeting for seizure. The organization told farmers to check the list and contact it for legal assistance to fight back.

The South African government Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has denied the validity of the list.