Land Policy Complicates Task for New Head of African National Congress

By Gabriele SteinhauserFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

A decision by the African National Congress on Wednesday to push for the expropriation of land without compensation may further complicate the task ahead for the party's new leader.

In his maiden address Wednesday as chief of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa looked to balance his own agenda of boosting economic growth and job creation with his party's demands for more aggressive action to redistribute the nation's wealth.

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In his speech, Mr. Ramaphosa acknowledged that the ANC, which holds an absolute majority in parliament, had just backed legal changes to allow the government to take land from white farmers and other owners and redistribute it to black South Africans without compensation, an issue that has long roiled the ruling party.

The decision was in contrast with previous policies, in which the government paid for properties offered for sale, and a law passed last year that allows the state to take over land at a price set by a government adjudicator.

The new party leader stressed that expropriations must not hurt the economy, agricultural production and food security. In neighboring Zimbabwe, at-times violent land invasions in the 1990s and early 2000s prompted a period of steep economic decline and food shortages.

"We are going to make sure...that we will manage the process of implementing that policy with due care in the interest of our people as a whole," Mr. Ramaphosa said, adding that "South Africa belongs to all of us, black and white."

The question of expropriation adds to a list of policies adopted by the ANC at its national conference this week that were closer to Mr. Ramaphosa's rival and ex-wife of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whom Mr. Ramaphosa beat in a tight vote Monday.

In his speech, Mr. Ramaphosa made no mention of a decision announced Saturday by Mr. Zuma to offer free higher education to poor and working-class students -- a plan that Moody's Investors Service has warned would cost the equivalent of 1% of the cash-strapped country's gross domestic product.

Write to Gabriele Steinhauser at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 20, 2017 19:24 ET (00:24 GMT)