There have been two disturbing media statements from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform this year pointing to the distinct possibility of trouble ahead as the South African government accelerates its land reform programme. The first, in February, was issued to allay fears of land claims affecting properties in the suburbs of Centurion – located south of Pretoria. The second, issued today (11 April), responds to a ‘continuous, disturbing spate of fraudulent and illegal demarcations, allocations and occupations’ affecting a farm in Limpopo province apparently owned by the state. This despite a Constitutional Court ruling in the department’s favour.

Both highlight the distinct possibility of government’s best intentions being hijacked and exploited by opportunists either intent on creating political instability or trying to make a fast buck. If they take place on a scale the authorities can’t control, they’re likely to be the final straw for large numbers of property owners in this country convinced they’re about to lose everything despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s repeated assurances to the contrary. They will also scare off any remaining prospective investors.

The process of amending the Constitution to provide for land expropriation without compensation has only just begun. It could take more time than South Africans likely to benefit from accelerated land reform have been led to believe – by ill-informed, lower-ranking ruling party politicians in particular. Land invasions are already a relatively common occurrence and are likely to increase as patience wears thin. Life in South Africa could become even more fraught and precarious if fraudulent developers and mischievous rumour-mongers persist in their efforts to be added to the mix. This article by human rights advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi says it all.

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