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South Africa begins taking land from white farmers to 'correct a past wrong

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is moving forward with plans to seize land from white farmers in the country for redistribution to black citizens. (RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)

The South African government is moving forward with plans to take land owned by white citizens without compensation, as price negotiations break down with dozens of farmers.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced at a farmers conference on Monday that the redistribution of land to black owners was necessary to "correct a past wrong," the Daily Mail reported.

What is happening?

Following apartheid, South Africa's constitution allowed for a "willing-seller, willing-buyer" system where the government could take the land of whites for a court-determined price and hand the property over to black citizens.

Since 2007, a total of 23 seizures have occurred. According to South African newspaper City Press, it is unclear what kind of compensation the land owners received.

Ramaphosa wants to ramp up the progress, threatening to amend the constitution and take farms without compensation.

Now, the government has reportedly targeted more than 130 plots as "test cases" to grab and allow the courts to determine what is "just and equitable" compensation. The move caused speculation that "just and equitable" compensation could be interpreted to mean "no compensation at all" if the land being seized is owned by a white person.

Johan Steenkamp and Arnold Boerdery are white land owners who have two farms held under the name of their company, Akkerland Boerdery. According to South Africa's News24, the company received a notice from the government in March that stated, "Notice is hereby given that a terrain inspection will be held on the farms on April 5 2018 at 10am in order to conduct an audit of the assets and a handover of the farm's keys to the state."

The owners were granted an injunction to stop the eviction, but the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs denied their application. Steenkamp and Boerdery asked for 200 million rand for their property — the South African government offered them one tenth that amount.

According to a translation provided by News24: Rapport, a sister publication of City Press reported last week that more than 30 property owners in the KwaZulu-Natal province are facing expropriation without compensation due to their refusal to accept the appraised valued set by the government's Valuer-General.

In the meantime, a record number of farms are up for sale as white owners panic and seek to unload their properties before seizure occurs. But Omri van Zyl, head of the Agri SA union (which represents mainly farmers) told the Express on Monday: "So many farms are up for sale, more than we've ever had, but no one is buying."

Cattle farmer Jo-an Engelbrecht told ABC's foreign correspondent that his farm was now "worth zero."

"We had several auctions in the last two or three weeks cancelled because there was no people interested in buying the land," he explained. "Why would you buy a farm to know the government's going to take it?"

How's that going?

South Africa's state-owned Land Bank warned on Monday, Reuters reported, that the African National Congress' plan to redistribute land could trigger defaults and leave the country on the hook for 41 billion rand ($2.8 billion).

Land Bank Chairman Arthur Moloto said that without first protecting the national bank's rights as a creditor, "This would make our entire 41 billion rand fund portfolio due and payable immediately, which we would not be able to settle. Consequently, government intervention would be require to settle our lenders."

In neighboring Zimbabwe, land grabs in the early 2000s caused anarchy from which the country has never recovered.

Anything else?

On Oct. 30 2017, thousands of white farmers took part in what they called the Black Monday protest — seeking to bring attention to the high murder rate of farmers in the country. Demonstrators blocked roadways with convoys of vehicles, and wore black to honor the memories of land owners who had been murdered in South Africa.

Black Monday was organized by AfriForum, an advocacy group for the country's white minority population. The group's head of community safety, Ian Cameron spoke at a rally that day, saying: "A farmer has 4.5 times more chance of being murdered in South Africa, than an average South African.

"That means a farmer is three times more likely to be murdered in South Africa than a police officer in this country. So farmers have by far the most dangerous job of all people in this country, at the moment. We cannot allow this to continue the way it is."

One last thing…
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