A South African parliamentary committee on Thursday backed changing the constitution to support land being taken from its owners without compensation, in the latest step of a heated battle to address apartheid-era inequality.
The ruling African National Congress party and the radical left Economic Freedom Fighters voted in favour of the move, while the main opposition Democratic Alliance voted against.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has made land redistribution his flagship policy ahead of elections in May next year, describing it as a “festering wound” for the country, which ended white-minority rule in 1994.
He has said that “expropriation without compensation” will be done within the law and not threaten food production or the economy, vowing to halt any violent land seizures that triggered chaos in neighbouring Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.
“The Joint Constitutional Review Committee today adopted its report in favour of an amendment of section 25 of the Constitution to make it possible for the state to expropriate land without compensation,” parliament said in a statement.
Committee chairman Stan Maila said that “there was a need for urgent and accelerated land reform in order to address the injustices of the past… the hunger for land amongst the dispossessed was clear.”
The panel’s conclusions are likely to be challenged in court before a full vote by lawmakers to change the constitution.
Most private land in South Africa is owned by white people, 24 years after the end of apartheid.
The ANC faces tricky elections next year as its support has declined steadily since Nelson Mandela led it to victory in the 1994 poll.
Ramaphosa took power in February and has vowed to revive the national economy and restore the party’s popularity after the nine-year reign of scandal-tainted Jacob Zuma who was ousted by the ANC.