The South African parliament voted to seize lands owned by whites without compensation. A motion for “expropriation without compensation” passed by a landslide in the legislature, having been brought to the fore by leftist Julius Malema who said that white farmers are “criminals.” Following the vote on Tuesday, South Africa’s constitution will probably be amended to allow the confiscation without compensation. Passing by 241 votes in favor, 83 members of the parliament voted against the measure. The matter has been referred to the parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee, which must report back by August 30.

The proposal is now central plank in the platform of the ruling party and the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who was appointed to the post after the resignation of scandal-plagued former president Jacob Zuma.

Malema said that the period for “reconciliation is over,” adding “Now is the time for justice,” according to News24. “We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land,” declared the life-long leftist. According to South African government audit of 2017, white people owned 72 percent of farmland. Malema told parliament, “It is about our dignity. We do not seek revenge... all that our people ever wanted is their land to which their dignity is rooted and founded.” He has long sought land grabs as the leader of his party -- Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) -- telling supporters in 2016 that he was “not calling for the slaughter of white people - at least for now.” 

Whites in South Africa, like most of their countrymen, speak Afrikkans -- a dialect of the Dutch language brought by the forebears from The Netherlands who came in the early 1600s. Whites from other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, came later, as did slaves from Indonesia, Madagascar, and other African nations. South Africa resorted to its racist apartheid policy as of 1948, continuing into its declaration of independence from the United Kingdom and until 1994.

Joining with Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Union party, Malema has taken center stage by pushing the ANC to adopt his scheme for land redistribution. He is also taking on the centrist and multi-racial Democratic Alliance (DA) party by introducing a motion to remove Athol Trollip -- the mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay who comes from the DA. The Democratic Alliance is the official opposition to the governing ANC. 

The ANC has taken on a central plank of the EFF platform, as noted by Minister of Water Affairs Gugile Nkwinti, who said, according to News24, "The ANC unequivocally supports the principle of land expropriation without compensation." He added, "There is no doubt about it, land shall be expropriated without compensation." How this will play out for Malema remains to be seen. The EFF leader has vacillated in years past between close relations with the ANC and former president Zuma to severe criticism.

Pieter Groenewald, who leads the Freedom Front Plus party, said of the coming land seizures that it will cause “unforeseen consequences that is not in the interest of South Africa.” Civil rights advocates also criticized the move, considering it a violation of agreements made at the end of the apartheid years. Ernst Roets, of the civil rights group Afriforum, released a statement stating that the group may take a complaint to the United Nations. Roets said in the statement, “This motion is based on a distorted image of the past,” adding, “The term ‘expropriation without compensation’ is a form of semantic fraud. It is nothing more than racist theft.” In the past he has denounced what he called the “simply deceitful” claims that “white people who own land necessarily obtained it by means of oppression, violence or forced removals.”

“The EFF’s view on redistribution is merely a racist process to chase white people off their land and establish it within the state,” Roets said. “This is not only deceiving, but also a duplication of the economic policies that the world’s worst economies put in place.” This was a reference to Zimbabwe, where land has been seized from white farmers for redistribution to black Africans. The often violent land redistribution in Zimbabwe under former dictator Robert Mugabe left farms in ruins, resulting in food shortages and a lingering economic crisis that accompanied political repression and systematic human rights violations. 

The ANC is increasingly under pressure to speed up land redistribution to help shore up its support among poorer black voters ahead of the election next year.

Catholic bishops denounce regressive taxation

A constitutional crisis is not the only matter that is stirring the pot in restive South Africa.  Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba recently announced that his government will increase the country’s Value Added Tax (VAT) from 14 percent to 15 percent -- the first increase since 1993. "The increase in VAT will be felt mostly by poorer people" warned the Parliamentary Liaison Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference.

“It may be true that middle-class and wealthy individuals actually pay most VAT, but that is simply because they buy more stuff, and more expensive stuff. They can mostly cope with the extra percentage point", read the document. "But people who have to choose between buying a cheap pair of children’s shoes and putting supper on the table will feel it deeply", it emphasizes.
The fiscal plan offered by the South African government would exempt 19 basic food products, such as corn meal, from the VAT. The Catholic bishops prefer a less regressive tax scheme, which would exempt other necessities, such as "inexpensive clothing, school supplies, and basic toiletries."

While South Africa’s Council of Ministers weighs the possibility of extending the list of exemptions to alleviate the burden borne by the poor, the Catholic bishops’ document stated, “The poor will also end up feeling the increase in the fuel levy more than the rich will, as taxi fares go up and the cost of food rises due to increased transport costs", emphasizes the analysis. "And then there is the matter of the R85 billion that is to be saved by cutting government expenditure over the next three years. A good deal of this will flow from decreased allocations to provinces and municipalities for infrastructure projects. Which projects exactly will suffer we do not know, but clearly there will be negative knock-on effects for employment in industries like construction and transport, where many lower-earning workers are employed. And no doubt some projects aimed at improving living conditions, public transport links, electrification of informal settlements, and so on, will be shelved or postponed."

In the wake of the resignation of former president Jacob Zuma, and the country’s current deficit and other fiscal woes, the bishops called on President Ramaphosa to dig South Africa out of its fiscal "hole."

"Just as Mr. Zuma helped to dig the hole we are in by his irresponsible governance decisions, his indifference to fiscal and monetary realities, and his wholehearted association with a range of crooks and looters, so Mr. Ramaphosa can make much progress out of the hole by doing just the opposite: appointing honest and competent ministers and heeding their advice; setting the example by running a tight executive ship; and seeing to it that the crooks and looters are exposed and sent to jail." The bishops went on to write, "The next few weeks and months will tell us if and how he intends to go about these tasks. In the meantime, at least we seem to have stopped digging."



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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