The ANC amending the Constitution to expropriate land without compensation is a populist move that will discourage investment in the agricultural sector and devastate the economy, agricultural industry body AgriSA said on Wednesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on national television on Tuesday that the ANC had decided to change the Constitution to expropriate land without compensation. This is despite Parliament’s constitutional review committee still holding public hearings across the country on the matter, and due to report back in September.

"We are currently in a consultation process where South Africans are participating in a process of review — we have actually taken the time to participate in this process — and this announcement by the governing party serves only to undermine the process under way," said AgriSA president Dan Kriek. "SA needs more black farmers and black farms. Constitutional amendments — and even worst-case expropriation without compensation — may make for good electioneering but it doesn’t make more black farmers."

Kriek said Ramaphosa’s announcement was "irresponsible electioneering and the leaders of our country should be more vigilant and responsible when it comes to the future of the economy and job creation for all South Africans … We are a full and active participant in the upcoming ANC jobs summit — this position will not encourage us to invest in the sector to create more jobs".

AgriSA said expropriation without compensation and economic growth "are diametrically contrasted — and nowhere in the world has this worked in any shape or form". "Agrarian reform can only happen successfully working hand-in-hand, in partnership, with the private sector," said Omri van Zyl, executive director of AgriSA.

"We have seen this movie play out all over world — Venezuela, Russia — the promise for emerging farmers of tools, fertiliser, seeds and extension services are superficial; many have promised this as election ploys — and yet the outcome is always catastrophic for agriculture and food security," said van Zyl.

ANC forced to listen

Prof Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape said Ramaphosa’s announcement shows that the ANC has been "forced to listen to ordinary South Africans across the country who have attended public hearings and who have said, ‘We want land and we feel the government has not listened to us.’ People have blamed the Constitution for the government’s inaction over the land issue. I think we are going to head into a new phase now where government is going to be forced to take the land issue much more seriously."

In Tuesday night’s announcement, Ramaphosa, who was speaking in his capacity as ANC leader, said it had become "patently clear that our people want the Constitution be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation, as demonstrated in the public hearings".