A Zimbabwean farmers’ union leader warned white South African farmers they should agree a deal to share land with the black majority before they suffer the same fate as neighbours in Zimbabwe who were violently removed from their properties.
Land redistribution is a burning political issue in South Africa and has divided the ruling African National Congress (ANC) ahead of a December conference where President Jacob Zuma’s successor as party leader will be chosen.
Many Zuma supporters are demanding land expropriation from whites without compensation, while the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an increasingly popular four-year-old party, has told South Africans to occupy unused land illegally.
Although Zuma has said any land reform will be done sensibly and within the law, there are concerns that the populism in South African politics could lead to the scenes witnessed in Zimbabwe in the early-2000s.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe permitted violent land seizures from white farmers, beginning in 2000, that prompted the international community to cut off ties and sent a once-promising economy into a tailspin.
“We were arrogant. We thought they would never take the land because we were too important for the economy,” Peter Steyl, president of Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers Union, the nation’s biggest commercial farming union, said.
“You never think it will happen until people turn up at your door armed with machetes, off their heads. It gets pretty real.”
“They are facing the same situation in South Africa. I would tell them: ‘it’s better to give a little bit now than lose everything when things go too far’.”
South Africa’s government says only eight million hectares of arable land have been transferred to black people since the end of apartheid in 1994, less than 10 percent of the 82 million hectares available and a third of the ANC’s 30 percent target.
The ANC is under pressure to win back many poor, black voters who have switched allegiance to the EFF, founded by Julius Malema after he was expelled from the ANC for misconduct.
Malema, a former protege of Zuma who has become a thorn in his side, is due to appear in court on charges of inciting violence due to his comments on land grabs.
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