South Africa's White Farmers Could Lose Land as Parliament Backs Constitutional Reform

The constitutional review committee in South Africa's parliament recommended Thursday that the country's constitution be amended to allow the state to expropriate land without compensation if it's in the national interest.

The recommendation was part of an ongoing and contentious debate about how to make land ownership in the country more equitable. Over two decades after South Africa's apartheid system was ended, land ownership is still concentrated in the hands of white South African farmers, who own around 73 percent of the country's commercial agricultural land despite making up just nine percent of the population.

Proponents of land reform argue that the state must step in to transfer ownership of some of the land to black farmers. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) released a statement Thursday throwing its weight behind the proposal.

"We commend the Committee for their sterling work during and beyond the public hearing process. We are confident that this position resonates with the aspiration of the overwhelming majority of our people. Land is not only an economic asset, it also restores the dignity of our people who have been dispossessed of their land for centuries," the ANC wrote in a statement.

Critics, however, argue that the move could negatively impact food production. The issue has also become a cause célèbre for white nationalists around the world who view white South African farmers as victims.

In August, President Donald Trump learned about the issue from Fox News and began tweeting some of the white nationalists' talking points. Fox News's anchor Tucker Carlson had said that the seizure of white farmers' land was "immoral" and claimed that U.S. "elites" were ignoring the issue because former President Barack Obama supports South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who backs the land reform.

"I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. "South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers." @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews," Trump tweeted. Data, however, demonstrated that the murder rate of white South African farmers was at a 20-year low.


— African National Congress (@MYANC) November 15, 2018

South Africa's government responded to Trump's tweet, saying that it "totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past."

The committee's recommendation will now go to the country's national assembly for a formal vote. It is not clear when that vote will take place.

South Africa will hold elections next year, and the ANC will face tough competition. Ramaphosa has pledged to restore the party's popularity in the wake of the previous president's corruption scandals.