South African city Ekurhuleni is preparing to seize without compensation land from private landowners as the country’s officials consider the legality of seizing land from white land owners.

Ekurhuleni’s city council voted in September to move forward on a plan distributing land more equitably among the city’s white and black population, The Associated Press reportedFriday. White South Africans comprise 8 percent of the population but hold the bulk of privately-owned land.

South Africa temporarily withdrew in August an expropriations bill enabling the country to make compulsory land purchases from white farmers to redress racial disparities rampant during the apartheid. It was withdrawn to pave way for a potential constitutional amendment allowing the government to expropriate land without pay.

The Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party crafted the bill as part of a so-called “land reform” program to even what some reports show is a disparity in property ownership between the black majority and white minority.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa — and his party, African National Congress (ANC) — reassured lawmakers in March that any redistribution program would be done in a way that does not disrupt normal farming operations. ANC widely supports an amendment authorizing expropriation.

Some lawmakers in the Democratic Alliance (DA) party, along with agricultural economists, worry the program could suffer the same fate as one Zimbabwe created in the early 2000s, which effectively seized land from white farmers.

Zimbabwe, under the direction of former dictator Robert Mugabe, seized and redistributed land from about 4,000 white farmers to landless black people to compensate them for years of colonial rule.

The land confiscation scheme ultimately destroyed Zimbabwe’s once-thriving agricultural sector and forced the government to rely on international aid to feed 25 percent of the population. Agricultural revenue declined by roughly $12 billion in the space of a decade, according to Zimbabwe’s commercial farmers’ union.

Ekurhuleni’s Executive Mayor Mzwandile Masina, who heads the local ANC coalition, mirrored Ramaphosa’s sentiments on the policy, suggesting that people should not be scared about the spread of violence.

“Our policy is not to take the land by force,” Masina told reporters. “Our policy is to make sure the land is shared amongst those that need it.”

The maneuver is partially intended to elicit a court challenge to determine whether the policy is legal on its face or if the constitution must be amended to move forward.

“The court may find you do have to pay some level of compensation,” Ben Cousins, an academic who researchers poverty and land redistribution at the University of Western Cape, told reporters. “It could backfire quite badly.”


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