'We will resolve it like we did with apartheid' – Ramaphosa talks land in Beijing

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Chinese president Xi Jinping shake hands. Picture: Deaan Vivier/Gallo Images
President Cyril Ramaphosa and Chinese president Xi Jinping shake hands. Picture: Deaan Vivier/Gallo Images

President Cyril Ramaphosa revved up South Africa's charm offensive on the land policy debate on the eve of the Forum for Africa-China Cooperation (Focac) summit in Beijing in China on Sunday, as the government seeks to reverse the damage caused by US President Donald Trump's criticism of the proposed policy on land expropriation without compensation.

Ramaphosa said the fear that had been propagated through misinformation by opponents of the ongoing land policy debate like Trump was beginning to subside and "people are being more rational".

He described the levels of contributions to the discussion from individual South Africans and civil society formations as "wonderful", saying both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had also embraced the processes undertaken by the South African government.

'The original sin'

He said land was "the original sin" that gave birth and rise to racial oppression and segregation in SA's former apartheid regime "and continues to be a wound that has to be healed".

"Viable solutions are needed to ensure that all South Africans do enjoy a right to property," he said.

Last week Trump nearly sparked a diplomatic row when he commented on social media that he had asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. South African government is now seizing land from white farmers."

The tweet came after he watched a show on controversial Fox News in which the issue was discussed.

In response, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu instructed South Africa's diplomats across the globe to embark upon a charm offensive and explain the government's position in every available platform.

Read: Trump tweet sparks charm offensive

It was expected that international trips by government would be used to educate stakeholders about South Africa's parliamentary process with regard to land redistribution.

"We will also make sure the message is spread during all international visits," said department spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya, adding that Sisulu had also written to Pompeo, inviting him to South Africa to come and assess the situation and unfolding processes for himself.

The department also warned extremist group AfriForum to desist from disseminating false information about the country to the rest of the world.

Ramaphosa told a breakfast session with SA businesspeople in Beijing that South Africa would manage the land debate in the same sensible manner that it was able to defeat apartheid when many in the world had thought that the country was on the brink of a civil war.

'We will surprise the world again'

"South Africa will step up to the plate and resolve it (land) like we did with apartheid. People thought we will fight and tear the nation apart but we surprised the world and we will surprise the world again."

He said that land was an important resource which had been reserved for only a minority in South Africa for many years and "the majority want important resources to be released so it could play an important role in economic growth".

Ramaphosa said it was necessary that all those representing South Africa in Beijing speak with one voice.

He said China's attitude was that South Africa needed to transform and change the architecture of land holdings from what it has been in the past, but also move towards development so that solutions on the land question contributed to economic growth and stability.

"With those considerations every problem is easy to resolve. We have to transform property relations in our country, underpin that with development and have in mind that whatever we do should not harm the economy, particularly agricultural production and food security".

Ramaphosa said this "equation" had to be balanced in a way that would position South Africa to attract investments.

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