In his reply to the debate in parliament that followed his third state of the nation (Sona) address, President Cyril Ramaphosa downplayed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema’s accusation that the president and ANC adopted the policy of land expropriation without compensation for votes, without “meaning it”.
“I agree with honourable Malema that we will not solve the social ills confronting South Africa without addressing the question of land,” he said.
He then committed to making good on delivering changes to the constitution which would explicitly allow for expropriation without compensation.
“Parliament will have to deal with the Land Expropriation Without Compensation Bill to achieve agrarian reform and spatial justice. We want to make all rights visible,” Ramaphosa said.
“Given the chance, our people are able to rise to the top and that is what we are seeking to do,” he continued.
“We are establishing an institutional basis to remove constraints in accessing land. Land should be distributed to those who work it.”
This follows Malema issuing a “warning to the ANC” during his debate responding to Ramaphosa’s Sona, that “we cannot use the land question to encourage people to vote for us, it is an emotive issue and when we speak about it we must be meaning it, not what you did to the electorate”.
“If we do not change the patterns of property ownership in South Africa, white people will continue to think that they are superior because they own the means of production,” Malema said.
Elsewhere in his speech, Malema issued a stronger warning.
“We must, therefore, warn you that if you do not expropriate land without compensation and return it to its rightful owners, the democratic project remains under permanent threat,” Malema said.
“Our people are going to engage in an unled revolution because there will be fighting for what rightfully belongs to them.”
While the president does claim to agree with the opposition leader on the necessity of expropriating land, they may well disagree on the method.
Ramaphosa has repeatedly told people not to “panic” about the constitutional change, promising that it would not be a “smash and grab” attempt, and many consultations would still take place to ensure the process would not harm food production, jobs and the economy as a whole.
The president has attempted to calm investors jittery at the prospect of land expropriation on multiple occasions, pleading with groups that have been trying to warn other countries and investors that property rights were under threat in South Africa not to panic or spread fear, but to rather embrace the positive spirit of the legislative change, which he believes could still bring benefits to the country.