President Cyril Ramaphosa and British Prime Minister Theresa May at Tuynhuys in Cape Town. Picture: SUPPLIED/GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa and British Prime Minister Theresa May at Tuynhuys in Cape Town. Picture: SUPPLIED/GCIS

British Prime Minister Theresa May has endorsed SA’s approach to land reform, but emphasises that the process must be legal and transparent.

May, who is visiting SA as part of the UK’s efforts to boost relations ahead of that country’s exit from the EU in 2019, said the UK supported land reform "that is legal, transparent and follows democratic process".

"It’s an issue I raised with President [Cyril] Ramaphosa when he was in London earlier this year … I will be talking about it with him later today," said May in response to questions at a business forum in Cape Town on Tuesday.

"I welcome the comments that he has already made about approaching land reform bearing in mind economic and social consequences ... and that land reform will be no smash and grab," May said.

Her views on the contentious land issue stand in stark contrast to US President Donald Trump’s assessment last week.

In a tweet that rattled local markets, Trump said he had asked US secretary of state Mike Pompeo "to closely study the SA land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large-scale killing of farmers", and falsely accused the South African government of "seizing land from white farmers".

May announced that the UK planned to invest heavily in SA and the continent.

"By 2022, I want the UK to be the G-7’s number one investor in Africa, with Britain’s private sector companies taking the lead," May said. The G-7 comprises some of the world’s major industrialised nations, but does not include China, which is a key investor in Africa.

The UK, a major investor in SA, is the world’s sixth-biggest economy, with a GDP nearly nine times the size of SA’s. The country was SA’s sixth largest global trading partner in 2017, with total trade at R79.5bn.

May, who is also visiting Nigeria and Kenya this week, said SA and the broader African continent offered significant opportunities for investors.

"I think there are real opportunities for the future…. I brought a significant business delegation with me across a wide range of business activities from financial services to agriculture … they are looking to invest … they want to ensure that countries have that stable aspect that investors are always looking for," she said.

The UK’s development aid would look at how "we can assist to bring stability to those states that are fragile," she said.

"As prime minister of a trading nation whose success depends on global markets, I want to see strong African economies that British companies can do business with."

Britain aimed to retain the EU’s current partnership with six southern African countries — Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, SA, Swaziland and Mozambique, May said.

Speaking at a business roundtable, Ramaphosa reiterated that land reform would not "be a smash and grab", and that government was prepared to engage with investors to discuss their concerns on the issue.

"We will deal with the issue in a way that ensures that the economy is not harmed, agriculture production increases, and we will focus on food security … we can reassure you that we are as responsible as we were when we solved the apartheid nightmare," Ramaphosa said.

British leader Theresa May shares her thoughts on South Africa’s land reform policies at a news conference held in Cape Town on August 28 2018. Subscribe to TimesLIVE here: