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August 07, 2008

Expropriation fears, economic pressures cause exodus from South African commercial farming

The current exodus of South African commercial farmers will eventually force the country to buy its food from Botswana, farmers' union Agri SA's chairperson has warned.

Theo de Jager was speaking at a function arranged by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of Property Rights, an informal pressure group established two months ago to raise public awareness of what it believes will be the dire consequences of implementing the controversial Expropriation Bill.

He said many commercial farmers were quitting agriculture in the face of economic pressures, while others had also packed their ploughs for neighbouring countries - like Botswana - to avoid the uncertainty caused by the government's "threats of expropriation."

De Jager said local farmers were "replicating their commercial agricultural ventures" in countries where they were offered better support and did not face the possibility of having their land "nationalised in the public interest."

The Expropriation Bill will, if passed in its current form, allow the public works minister to expropriate any property - not just land - in the public interest.

Dave Steward from the De Klerk Foundation pointed out that a "particularly nasty clause" in this bill would allow the minister to expropriate "any property on behalf of any juristic person where that person has tried to obtain the property through negotiations and failed."

"We view this as a back door clause to allow for a massive expansion of the government's Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment policy," he said, adding that this would effectively allow the minister to nationalise commercial farms and hand them over to BEE companies.

Concerns were also raised that the bill proposes to limit the role of the courts in arbitrating expropriation disputes.

If a property owner is not happy with the amount of compensation being offered, the bill says the courts may refer the matter back to the expropriating authority - appointed by the minister - for reconsideration, creating what Steward described as a "ping-pong effect."
Parliament is due to continue deliberating the bill in the next two weeks.

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