Sunday, November 13, 2011

South African update: Will the ouster of Malema stop the decline in farm values?

In my last report on South Africa, I mentioned two possible factors in the price decline for South African game farms. One factor was the overall world surplus of vacation properties for the super-rich, and the second factor was political rhetoric calling for uncompensated government expropriation of white-owned land, rhetoric amplified by a rising star in South African politics, Julius Malema, the ANC’s Youth League President. Last Thursday, Malema was removed from his position and suspended from ANC for five years for bringing disrepute to the party, because of his divisive speeches within South Africa as well as his interference in the politics of neighboring countries. He has been constantly opposed by President Jacob Zuma.

The removal of Malema may help restore investor confidence, although the Johannesburg Stock Exchange All Shares Index was up by less than one percent after his sacking. The JSE AS index was hit hard earlier this week by a sovereign ratings downgrade from Moody’s.

Expropriation of white-owned properties

Confiscation of white-owned properties occurred during the 1990s in nearby Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia) and has resulted in a decline in agricultural productivity there and an overall implosion of the economy after a period of hyperinflation.

At end of the Apartheid Period of South Africa in the 1990s, 87% of commercial farmland was white-owned, and the new ANC-led government pledged a compensated program of land redistribution that would transfer 30% of white-owned land to blacks. Progress has been slow, and whites still own 84% of commercial farmland.

It is difficult to calculate the effect of the removal of Malema in restoring real estate market confidence. The ANC Youth League which he presided over still insists, after his ouster, on the nationalization of mines, a similar issue, and this matter is still being actively studied by the African National Congress despite the insistence of national leaders that it would never happen.

One problem also besetting the agricultural sector is the reportedly high murder rate of white farmers, most who are allegedly killed during ordinary robberies rather than politically motivated violence. More than 3000 farmers are alleged to have been murdered so far, a very alarming number, and Malema's removal will have little effect in stopping this trend.
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