President Jacob Zuma has called on parliament to change South Africa’s constitution to allow the expropriation of white owned land without compensation.
Mr Zuma, 74, who made the remarks in a speech yesterday/FRI morning, said he wanted to establish a “pre-colonial land audit of land use and occupation patterns” before changing the law.
“We need to accept the reality that those who are in parliament where laws are made, particularly the black parties, should unite because we need a two-thirds majority to effect changes in the constitution,” he said.
Mr Zuma, who has lurched from one scandal to another since being elected to office in 2009, has adopted a more populist tone since his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party suffered its worst election result last August since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The party lost the economic hub of Johannesburg, the capital Pretoria and the coastal city of Port Elizabeth to the moderate Democratic Alliance party, which already held the city of Cape Town.
The ANC is also under pressure from the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema.
Mr Malema has been travelling the country urging black South Africans to take back land from white invaders and “Dutch thugs”.
He told parliament this week that his party wanted to “unite black people in South Africa” to expropriate land without compensation.
“People of South Africa, where you see a beautiful land, take it, it belongs to you,” he said. Although progress has been made in transferring property to black South Africans, land ownership is believed to be skewed in favour of whites more than 20 years after the end of apartheid.
“In the first place the state owns some 22 per cent of the land in the country, including land in the former homelands, most of which is occupied by black subsistence farmers who have no title and seem unlikely to get it any time soon,” the group said.
“This leaves around 78 per cent of land in private hands, but the race of these private owners is not known.”
Mr Zuma’s comments caused outrage among groups representing Afrikaans speaking farmers on Friday.
The Boer Afrikaner Volksraad, which claims to have 40,000 members, said its members would take land expropriation without compensation as “a declaration of war”.
“We are ready to fight back,” said Andries Breytenbach, the group’s chairman. “We need urgent mediation between us and the government. “If this starts, it will turn into a racial war which we want to prevent.”
Mr Zuma first mentioned the expropriation of land in his opening of Parliament speech last month, but Friday was the first time he called for a change in the law. In his February speech, he controversially called in the military to maintain “law and order” on the streets of Cape Town ahead of expected protests calling for him to step down.
It was the first time in South Africa’s history, including the heavily militarised apartheid era, that the president has ordered the military to provide security at parliament.