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July 29, 2008

Fears in South African farming sector over Expropriation Bill

Fears have been expressed that the controversial Expropriation Bill currently in parliament could lead South Africa down the same road as Zimbabwe.

Opposition parties and non-governmental organisations joined hands to oppose the controversial bill at the first of two meetings of the ad-hoc committee for the protection of property rights on July 28.

Ostensibly designed to counter the slow progress of the land reform programme, the farming sector had dismissed the bill as a government tool enact Zimbabwe-style land grabs.

Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha, who attended the conference; said fears that the bill could lead South Africa down the same as Zimbabwe were justified. "There is no question about it. There would have been no agreement, no constitution if we (National Party) were told then that this amendment would be implemented. Property rights, like other fundamental rights, were agreed upon by the National Party and the ANC to be included in the Bill of Rights. "It is unconstitutional to tamper with them and will lead to catastrophe," Botha said.

He said the injustices of the past couldn't be compensated for by the creation of injustices in the present. Botha said some of the consequences would be less food production and no foreign investment. "Black people, whom this is intended to help, will end up like those in Zimbabwe and pay the highest price," he said.

University of North West director of research, Professor Andre Duvenhage, said the decision taken by the ANC at Polokwane pointed to a shift away from a non-state intervention market policy towards a more radical pro-expropriation, less market driven land reform process.

He said in 1994, about 80 percent of agricultural land - about 82-million hectares - was owned by about 61 000 commercial farmers. That number has decreased to about 46 000. Duvenhage said the government's target of 30 percent of the land redistributed to blacks by 2015 amounted to about 25,9-million hectares but at the current rate this would only be achieved in 2058. "A total of 20,6-million hectares must still be transferred," he said.

TAU General Manager Bennie van Zyl said the government's "lies and distortions" about the history of land ownership bordered on ridiculous. "No white commercial farmer has stolen the land he is currently farming on from anyone."

Van Zyl said investor confidence was of utmost importance in South Africa but it seemed as though this was of no concern to the ANC government. "How can they expect that anybody will invest with confidence in a country where they could at any time be targeted with such a draconian Expropriation Act."

He said the role of agriculture was not sufficiently acknowledged and the uncertainty created by this proposed bill put a dampener on investment. "The government has to show the world that what is happening here is not another Zimbabwe and that South Africa will not end up as part of a history of failure in Africa," he said.

Tackling affirmative action, Botha said the ANC's obsession with quotas amounted to the rejection of skilled workers and artisans who were able to make a substantial contribution in terms of the promotion of skills training among blacks, as well as actual empowerment.

He said the boomerang effect of the Employment Equity Act and the manner in which it was being applied was that masses of blacks were still not trained and were unemployed. This also meant the country's economic progress was under serious threat as a result of the skills shortages which contributed to the decline in service delivery which burdened millions of blacks, as well as whites.

"We acknowledge that the ANC inherited a lot of misery from the past, but at least they also inherited the most advanced infrastructure in Africa," he said.


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