South Africa’s land-policy plans a disaster for economy, says US secretary of state

The South African government’s plans to expropriate land without compensation would be disastrous for the economy, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

The policy proposal is an example of centralised planning that has failed in other African states like Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Ethiopia, Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“South Africa is debating an amendment to permit the expropriation of private property without compensation,” he said. “That would be disastrous for that economy, and most importantly for the South African people.”

African economies need “strong rule of law, respect for property rights, regulation that encourages investment” for inclusive and sustainable economic growth, Pompeo said.

The rand has proved sensitive to White House comments on the issue in the past. It slumped in August 2018 after President Donald Trump asked the secretary of state to “closely study the South African land and farm seizures and expropriations.”

This wasn’t the case on Wednesday. The rand gained for the first day in three, advancing 0.4% to R14.95 per dollar by 11:52 am in Johannesburg.

“As long as the US doesn’t threaten sanctions against South Africa, the domestic news flow about South Africa’s failing state-owned entities and political inability to deal with the problem is enough to keep the rand on the back foot,” said Per Hammarlund, a strategist at SEB in Stockholm. “Pompeo’s comments are not threatening enough to make a bad situation worse for the rand.”