Deputy President steps in, puts SA farmers at ease after Trump's land expropriation comments

As South Africa debates US President Donald Trump's comments about land expropriation, Deputy President David Mabuza took the opportunity to quell farmers' fear and apprehension.

He said: "As the leadership of the ANC and government, we are clear that the implementation of land reform measures must not result in social fractures and racial polarisation.'

He was speaking a land summit organised by Landbouweekblad and Agri SA in Bela-Bela, Limpopo. "The land reform processes that we are undertaking poses no direct threat to the agriculture sector and the economy as a whole," he added.

South Africa's second-in-command called on farmers to continue to work hard, invest in their farms and increase production, while extending a hand of collaboration to the government to ensure that more and more South Africans enter the sector through organised and systematic access to land for productive use.

"Everything we do will be done within the confines of our constitutional framework. As the ANC, we will not support 'land grab' processes intended to undermine the economy and the work of the agriculture sector."

Mabuza promised that no farms would be invaded or grabbed and that farmers did not have to fear for their well-being.  

"We would like to discourage those who are using this sensitive and emotive issue of land to divide us as South Africans by distorting our land reform measures to the international community and spreading falsehoods that our 'white farmers' are facing the onslaught from their own government. This is far from the truth."

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted: "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."

That tweet followed a Fox News report on land expropriation in South Africa. In it, host Tucker Carlson interviewed Marian Tupy, an analyst at the Cato Institute, a think tank in Washington. 

Activist group AfriForum travelled to the US in May to lobby individual members of the US Senate and the House of Representatives on the land issue and farmer safety. 

On Thursday, AfriForum told News24 that its lobbying "certainly had an impact".

"We have spoken with a lot of people who have had contact with President Trump and we have spoken with many think tanks, one of them for example the Cato Institute, which has taken a very strong stance shortly before this statement now by President Trump," Deputy CEO Ernst Roets said. 

Food security

But Mabuza said on Thursday that the government was resolute in protecting the sector to prevent any contraction and threat to food security and that farmers should not fear land reform because it would not destroy production. "Instead, it is about expanding new horizons and possibilities to double our production capacity, especially where land has already been restituted and redistributed. It is about expanding access to land and ensuring that every piece of land is productive, including communal land."

Mabuza has said that government-owned land would be the immediate focus in approaching land reform.

He made it clear that land reform would begin with government-owned land earmarked for agricultural production, industrial use, human settlement and economic and industrial development.

"Government will prioritise land under the ownership of the state, including unused and under-utilised state land and ensure that this land is redistributed and put to productive use," said Mabuza.

"We also have agricultural land that has absentee farmers and is lying fallow. Such land will be transferred to the people who will put it to productive use."

Mining

Mabuza added that another key sector in land reform would be mining. 

"To address the competing interests between agriculture and mining, I have already started a process of engagement with the mining houses to make sure that land owned by mines, which is no longer available for mining, is rehabilitated for agricultural use. "Government will work with the agriculture sector in this regard to ensure that this land is properly rehabilitated and put to productive use."

Mabuza also explained that land would always be a sensitive issue and that the question of expropriation without compensation was an emotive issue among South Africans.  

"Land has always been a sensitive matter, and it is at the heart of ordinary people's daily struggle for economic participation and social empowerment.

"Access to land for productive use in agriculture, industrial development and human settlements remains a defining feature for the aspirations of those with no access to land," said Mabuza.

"There are many voices crying for access to land to improve the living conditions and open up opportunities for sustainable livelihoods."

Slow progress

Mabuza acknowledged that progress made on land reform has not been at a desired speed and that where restitution has been effected, not all of that land has been put to productive use.

"These are facts that exist against a background of poverty, high unemployment and growing inequality. These challenges are prevailing, notwithstanding all achievements we have made since 1994. "The path we are on is not sustainable."