May 22, 2018 / 1:08 PM / a month ago

South Africa land reform unlikely to mean constitutional change - analysts

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa looks likely to implement land redistribution under existing laws rather than by changing the constitution following a ruling party summit, in an approach more palatable to investors, analysts said on Tuesday.

Cattle graze at a farm in Delmas, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa May 20, 2018. Picture taken May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who came to power in February when former leader Jacob Zuma was ousted by his own party, has pledged to redistribute land without compensation, a move popular with poorer black voters ahead of an election next year.

The African National Congress (ANC) on Monday said it would “test the argument” that land redistribution without compensation is permitted under current laws, which would avoid the risky strategy of trying to change the constitution.

“Ramaphosa is working hard to defuse this issue. There is a carefully calculated move to work within the current legal framework,” said political analyst Daniel Silke.

“Changing the constitution over an issue that can be dealt with under current laws would be a red flag to a bull with foreign and domestic investors.”

With parliamentary elections next year, accelerating land reform will help to nullify the threat of the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a party whose push for radical wealth redistribution is attractive to disillusioned ANC supporters.

Farm workers harvest cabbages at a farm in Eikenhof, near Johannesburg, South Africa May 21, 2018. Picture taken May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The EFF says the constitution must be changed to ensure radical redistribution of land and other parts of the economy from the white minority to the black majority.

“The ANC has become disposed to expropriate without compensation precisely because of pressure from the EFF,” said Lesiba Teffo, political analyst and a professor at the University of South Africa.

“I think the majority of the people will be happy with a measured approach. The EFF has overplayed the race card.”

Some investors are concerned that the ANC’s reforms will result in white farmers being stripped of land to the detriment of the economy, although Ramaphosa has repeatedly said any changes will not compromise food security or growth.

FILE PHOTO: Residents walk through crowded shacks in Khayelitsha township, near Cape Town, South Africa July 9, 2012. Picture taken July 9, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

Experts say South Africa will not repeat the violent land seizures seen in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Reporting by Joe Brock, Editing by William Maclean

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