A Zimbabwean farmers’ union leader has advised white South African farmers to agree to a deal to share farmland with the black majority.
Land redistribution is a burning political issue in South Africa and has divided the ruling African National Congress (ANC) ahead of a December conference where President Jacob Zuma’s successor as party leader will be chosen.
Peter Steyl, president of Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers Union, the nation’s biggest commercial farming union, told newsmen that taking land without compensation would be disastrous.
Steyl said it would prompt investors and foreign institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to turn their back on Africa’s most developed economy.
“I know there are huge problems with unemployment in South Africa; everyone needs to come to the table to negotiate. We were arrogant; we thought they would never take the land because we were too important for the economy. You never think it will happen until people turn up at your door armed with machetes, off their heads. It gets pretty real.They are facing the same situation in South Africa, I would tell them it’s better to give a little bit now than lose everything when things go too far,’’ Steyl said.
Many Zuma supporters are demanding land expropriation from whites without compensation, while the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an increasingly popular four-year-old party, has told South Africans to occupy unused land illegally.
Although Zuma has said any land reform would be done sensibly and within the law.
However, there are concerns that the populism in South African politics could lead to the scenes witnessed in Zimbabwe in the early-2000s.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe permitted violent land seizures from white farmers, beginning in 2000, that prompted the international community to cut off ties and sent a once-promising economy into a tailspin.
South Africa’s government said only eight million hectares of arable land have been transferred to black people since the end of apartheid in 1994.
It noted that less than 10 per cent of the 82 million hectares are available and a third of the ANC’s 30 per cent target.
Agriculture employs 850,000 people in South Africa, or six per cent of the workforce, and the country of 56 million is a major food exporter.