South Africa should be able to seize land without paying compensation, new ANC leader says

  • Cyril Ramaphosa is the new Leader of the African National Congress, South Africa's top political party
  • Ramaphosa advocated "radical economic transformation" in his first major speech as ANC leader
  • Jacob Zuma remains president of South Africa

South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa, the new leader of the governing party ANC, said on Thursday he aims to stamp out corruption and pursue a policy of "radical economic transformation" that will
speed up expropriation of land without compensation.

Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during an event commemorating the third anniversary of former South African President Nelson Mandela's death in Johannesburg, South Africa, on December 5, 2016.
Zhai Jianlan | Xinhua | Getty Images
Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during an event commemorating the third anniversary of former South African President Nelson Mandela's death in Johannesburg, South Africa, on December 5, 2016.

"This conference has resolved that the expropriation of land without compensation should be among the mechanisms available to government to give effect to land reform and redistribution," he said in his maiden speech delivered in the early hours after a long delay.

Any move by the government to take land without compensation would bring a comparison to neighboring Zimbabwe, which launched a seizure of white-owned commercial farms in 2000.

Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old union leader who became a businessman and is now one of South Africa's richest people, is likely to become the country's next president after elections in 2019, because of his party's electoral dominance. The current embattled leader of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, could remain as president if he is not forced out and does not resign after the change in party leadership.

Ramaphosa has promised to fight rampant corruption and revitalize the economy, a message hailed by foreign investors.

"This conference has resolved that corruption must be fought with the same intensity and purpose that we fight poverty, unemployment and inequality," he said. "We must also act fearlessly against alleged corruption and abuse of office within our ranks."

Ramaphosa's victory over former cabinet minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is seen as a pivotal moment for the ANC, which launched black-majority rule under Nelson Mandela's leadership 23 years ago but is now deeply divided with its image tarnished.

Ramaphosa however paid tribute to President Zuma, who had backed his ex-wife Dlamini-Zuma for the top job a the ANC. Zuma's presidency, tainted by corruption and scandal, has badly tarnished the ANC's image both at home and abroad.

Ramaphosa however may not be able to push through policy changes because the ANC's top decision-making group, known as the "Top Six", was split down the middle, consisting of three politicians apiece drawn from Ramaphosa's camp and rival Dlamini-Zuma.

Zuma has faced allegations of corruption since he became head of state in 2009, and also faced allegations that his friends, the wealthy Gupta businessmen, wielded undue influence over his government.

Zuma and the Guptas have denied the accusations.

Ramaphosa alluded to these allegations in his speech, saying this had weakened the state-owned enterprises in Africa's most industrialized economy. The continent's traditional powerhouse has seen lethargic growth over the last six years and the jobless rate stands near record levels.

Ramaphosa also had a warning for corporate executives. "We must investigate without fear or favor the so-called 'accounting irregularities' that cause turmoil in the markets and wipe billions off the investments of ordinary South Africans," he said.