Omri van Zyl, head of the Agri SA union, which represents mainly white farmers, said: “The mood among our members is very solemn. They are confused about the lack of any apparent strategy from the government and many are panicking. So many farms are up for sale, more than we’ve ever had, but no one is buying.”
Investors in South Africa are worried that the economy would contract the way it did in Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe, who also seized land from whites. The country’s economy hasn’t recovered since then, with inflation reaching 89.7 sextillion percent during the peak of the crisis, according to some estimates.
“Markets are sensitive to anything perceived to be ‘Zimbabwe-fication’ on the land-reform front,” Henrik Gullberg, executive director of emerging-market strategy at Nomura, told Bloomberg.
Last week, South Africa’s governing party ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe fueled the farmers’ panic by announcing upcoming seizures. “You shouldn’t own more than 12,000 hectares of land and therefore if you own more, it should be taken without compensation,” Mantashe told News24. Minority rights group AfriForum has warned the move would be “catastrophic.”
The South African government says it wants to settle the land issue, a major point of contention in the predominantly black country, where 72 percent of private land is owned by the minority white population. It wants to redistribute the land to the black population of the country after taking it away from several thousand white commercial farmers.