Tensions among the country’s white farming community have been rising since the election of Cyril Ramaphosa assumed office earlier this year and committed his African National Congress (ANC) to land expropriation.
And ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe sparked panic last week when he said: “You shouldn’t own more than 25,000 acres of land.
“Therefore if you own more it should be taken without compensation.
“People who are privileged never give away privilege as a matter of a gift.
“And that is why we say, to give you the tools, revisit the constitution so that you have a legal tool to do it.”
But the idea was swiftly condemned by both white and black farmers, with unions predicting such a move would lead to job losses and a situation in which South Africa may no longer be able to feed itself.
Omri van Zyl, head of the Agri SA union, which represents mainly white commercial farmers, said: “The mood among our members is very solemn.
“They are confused about the lack of any apparent strategy from the government and many are panicking.
“So many farms are up for sale, more than we’ve ever had, but no one is buying.”
Analysts warn the move could undermine property rights and deter investment.
In neighbouring Zimbabwe, violent land seizures authorised by Robert Mugabe in the 1990s sent the country into a spiral of decline from which it has never recovered.
Analyst Henrik Gullberg said: “Markets are sensitive to anything perceived to be ‘Zimbabwe-fication’ on the land-reform front.”
Agri SA said about 20 per cent of South Africa’s farms produce 80 per cent of the food that feeds millions of people in southern Africa, and many of those properties would be affected by a 25,000-acre cap.
The National African Farmers’ Union (Nafu), which represents the country’s black farmers, said the scheme would lead to job losses.
Nafu president Motsepe Matlala said: “From a practical and economical point of view it will not work.”
Political analyst Marianne Merten said: “The narrative that expropriation without compensation is the silver bullet is simplistic and unrealistic.
“Land will be a central issue in the looming 2019 election year, and rhetoric is always easier than transformative action.”