In February 2018, Cyril took office as the President of South Africa. During the same month, the South African National Assembly passed a motion to review Section 25 of the Constitution, also known as the ‘Property Clause’. The national debate on land reform takes place in the context of a history of land displacements dating back to 1913, when the colonial government passed the Native Lands Act that allocated only 7% of land to Africans, as well as rising unemployment rates in the country.
There are many differing opinions on the state of land reform in South Africa. A 2017 report published by the Institute for Race Relations indicates that most black South Africans are less concerned with land issues than they are with job creation and unemployment. The Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF) in South Africa currently advocates for the nationalization of all land, whereas the African National Congress (ANC) party advocates for a more specific, law-based approach to evaluating what land should be retaken. The ANC currently appears to support some form of expropriation without compensation (EWC), a process in which the government reclaims land without compensating the property owners, as opposed to a governmental buy back of land at a fair market price. The ANC also positions EWC as an economic move, whereas the EFF utilize racial rhetoric when discussing land reform.
As the debate continues in South Africa on whether to adopt a policy of EWC, we are interested in foreign reactions to the situation. Specifically, what causes foreign actors to take a stance on EWC?
Shadow timeline overview
A number of international actors and officials have taken explicit stances on South African EWC. The first documented official statement on this issue was made on February 28th, 2018, by Janice Atkinson, a member of the European Parliament. She tweeted pictures of a letter addressed to Boris Johnson, a UK Member of Parliament, in which she accused EFF leader Julius Malema of “[encouraging] farm terror and murder.” She went on to emphasize that “The British government has a duty to South Africa” and “as a commonwealth member, it is our duty to step in and mediate.”
Almost four months later, on June 12th, the IMF said that “the South African government should clearly articulate its land reform plans in order to lift uncertainty weighing on investor sentiment” and “the government’s stated priorities of strengthening governance and promoting employment presented an opportunity to accelerate economic growth momentum.” However, on August 30th, the IMF “gave its full backing to South Africa’s land reform plan... as long as the highly contentious process is transparent and based on the constitution.”
The tidal wave came on August 22, 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted out a racially charged disapproval of EWC. In the tweet, Trump asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” The tweet also included a quote from Fox News stating that the “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” The South African Government Twitter page offered a quick rebuttal less than four hours later, stating firmly that “South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past… @realDonaldTrump.”
Unsurprisingly, media outlets took to the web to offer both facts about South African EWC and subjective analysis of Trump’s tweet. Additionally, a slew of international political officials issued statements in the following days and weeks. On August 23rd, just a day after Trump’s tweet, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton displayed concern for white South African farmers, stating “If you look at the footage and read the stories, you hear the accounts, it’s a horrific circumstance they face.”
Five days later On August 28th came British Prime Minister Theresa May’s statements on South African EWC. At a speech in Cape Town, she proclaimed “The UK has, for some time now, supported land reform that is legal, transparent, and follows a democratic process.” This endorsement came alongside her promise of £4 billion in investment for Africa’s economy, security, and young people.
May’s statements were followed by endorsements from China’s President Xi Jinping and Belgium’s Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders. Promises of more economic investment were made by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. However, Russian Stavropol government liaison Vladimir Poluboyarenko delivered an underhanded criticism of EWC as he began planning immigration trips to Russia for white South Africans. The South African government also received pushback from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who warned of a supposed detriment to foreign investment under EWC.
Looking at the types of actors taking explicit stances on EWC in South Africa and what they are saying, we hypothesize that political actors that are vulnerable domestically are more likely to take a public stance on EWC. To evaluate our hypothesis, we look at the case of Theresa May and the United Kingdom.
In July 2016, Theresa May became the Prime Minister of the UK following the contentious Brexit referendum. In her role as PM, she was charged with the task of negotiating the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. Part of her strategy appears to be engaging with partners outside of the EU, including in Africa; an October 2017 UK government white paper on the future of trade emphasized relationships with developing countries. In accordance with this apparent policy to focus on developing countries, May and Ramaphosa met in London in April 2018, where they agreed on a £50 million deal over the next four years to “identify and dismantle barriers to trade”.
In August 2018 on an “African Trade Mission” to South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, May publicly came out in support of Ramaphosa and “legal” land reform in South Africa. The fact that in July 2018, a month before her trip, May’s approval ratings hit a record low, indicates that our hypothesis might be correct, and that domestic political vulnerability impacts whether a political actor takes a public stance on EWC.
Details on TM's Africa trade proposals
From 2010 to 2015, the United Kingdom’s investment in Africa fell from £50 billion ($63.8 billion) to £42.5 billion ($54.2 billion). As Britain’s investment dropped, China and the United States’ investment skyrocketed. But in August 2018, on her three day trip to South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya, UK Prime Minister Theresa May declared that she intended to boost the UK’s investment in Africa and become the largest investor in the continent out of the Group of Seven countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US) by 2022. Though her statement was tempered by the acknowledgement that the UK may not be able to match either China or the US in terms of “economic might,” she promised stable, long-term opportunities of the “highest quality and breadth”.
In the wake of Brexit and the UK’s impending March 2019 withdrawal from the European Union, May has been transparent about her intention to find an alternative trade and investment source in Africa. On her August trip, May made clear her proposal, which includes an increase in bilateral trade with several countries. This proposition affirms that established trade relations from European Union-era agreements will remain in place, as the UK currently invests billions each year in countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Sudan. However, May proposed a shift in funding from aid to trade and expressed her intention to focus on long term economic relationships instead of short term poverty-reduction funding.
May committed the UK to spending its £13.9 billion development budget in the best interest of both African economies and British companies, affirming the need to set up formal, systematic trading terms to promote private British investment. In August, she remarked, “I am unashamed about the need to ensure that our aid programme works for the UK. So today I am committing that our development spending will not only combat extreme poverty, but at the same time tackle global challenges and support our own national interest.” Economic analysts have surmised that her overarching strategy functions as an effort to publicize the UK’s global investment interests.
This plan was imperative to May’s trade mission in August, where she began in Cape Town by pledging £4 billion ($5.1 billion) direct investment to African economies, remarking that she expects these investments to be matched by the private sector. The stop in Cape Town held particular weight, as South Africa has the continent’s second largest economy and is Britain’s largest export market in Africa. In April 2018, when South African president Cyril Ramaphosa visited the UK, the leaders agreed that the UK would provide £50 million to South Africa over the course of the next four years in the hopes of creating jobs, reducing poverty, and attracting potential investors, including British companies. The agreement was an asset to Ramaphosa, who is seeking $100 billion in investments over the next five years.
With a rejected Brexit deal, a vote of no confidence, and a March 29th deadline looming, May faces continued political instability. Her approval ratings as well as cooperation from her own Conservative party are under threat, leading us to believe she will turn to other avenues of political support. Our hypothesis suggests a likelihood that May will push to increase foreign investment in South Africa and continue to publicly display her support for EWC. However, with the publishing of a controversial Expropriation bill in December and the upcoming 2019 general election, Ramaphosa and his party likely face upcoming political instability as well. Considering the trying Parliamentary circumstances for both May and Ramaphosa, the formation of a symbiotic relationship of investment and political backing seems entirely possible in the coming months.