The South African government’s recent decision to abandon its Expropriation Bill, aimed at addressing the painfully slow pace of land reform, prompts the question: how can the country move towards a more equitable distribution of land and natural resources 14 years after the end of apartheid? Given the catastrophe in Zimbabwe following Mugabe’s land seizure policy, South Africa needs to get it right.
Land reform has always been high on the ANC’s agenda. In negotiations over the 1996 constitution it secured the inclusion of provisions to enable it to force through the land reforms necessary to give the black majority a real stake in the country’s economy. The constitution includes both a commitment to “the right to land ownership” and an acknowledgment that under exceptional circumstances that right could be suspended to promote land reform. Until recently, however, the government opted not to exercise its constitutional right to expropriate land.