FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 file photo, South Africa's new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, delivers his State of the Nation address in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a Cabinet shuffle that replaces the finance minister and puts a former finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, in charge of the country's troubled state-owned companies. (AP Photo/Ruvan Boshoff, File)
JOHANNESBURG - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday he wants talks on the thorny topic of land expropriation to avoid panic but aims to resolve the issue of racial disparities in property ownership “once and for all”.

South Africa took a step on Tuesday to hasten the transfer of land from white to black owners when parliament backed a motion seeking to change the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has long promised reforms to redress racial disparities in land ownership and the subject remains highly emotive more than two decades after the end of apartheid. Whites still own most of South Africa’s land following centuries of brutal colonial dispossession.

Ramaphosa said after his inauguration two weeks ago that he would speed up the transfer of land to black people, although he stressed that food production and security must be preserved.

“I will shortly initiate a dialogue with key stakeholders... There is no need for any one of us to panic and start beating war drums,” Ramaphosa said in parliament.

“We are going to address this and make sure that we come up with resolutions that resolve this once and for all. This original sin that was committed when our country was colonised must be resolved in a way that will take South Africa forward.”

Civil rights group AfriForum has said it will launch an international campaign to inform governments and foreign investors “that property rights in South Africa are being threatened”, it said in a statement.

AfriForum, an organisation that mostly represents white South Africans on issues like affirmative action, said foreign investments in South Africa will also not be safe should plans for land expropriation without compensation go ahead.

Kallie Kriel, CEO of AfriForum, said land expropriation “could unleash conflict in the country” without elaborating. He said AfriForum will lobby South African trade partners and ask countries whose citizens own land in the country to put pressure on Pretoria to stop the process of land expropriation.

The ruling ANC adopted a policy at its conference in December to redress racial ownership disparities by expropriating land without compensation, pledging to do so in way that does not undermine food security in the country, Africa’s top maize producer.

It is still not clear when any change to Section 25 of the constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation would take place. 

- REUTERS