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February 01, 2011

South African cabinet to soon review land ownership proposals

by Donwald Pressly

Details of the government’s envisaged curtailment of foreign land ownership and changes to the willing buyer, willing seller principle are expected to be contained in a revised green paper, which is due to be put to the cabinet shortly.

It was suggested in an early draft of the paper that an expropriation model be considered in place of the willing buyer, willing seller model.

Nearly a year ago, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti revealed that the department would table a green paper on agrarian transformation, rural development and land reform before cabinet. But spokesman Mtobeli Mxotwa said recently that it had yet to be tabled.

President Jacob Zuma had asked the department, after the recent cabinet lekgotla, to not comment on this matter until the State of the Nation address next month revealed details of the revised paper.

Among the key principles that the government wishes to see governing rural areas is that foreign ownership of commercial land should require participation by black South African partners and that there be provision for sharing surplus land on large farms with black South Africans.

Nkwinti described the new order as a three-tier tenure system – state land under leasehold, private land under freehold but with limited extent and foreign ownership with precarious tenure.

Mxotwa has emphasised that it is envisaged that state land would in future not be sold – even to locals – but only leased. The department has stressed that the land tenure system would be “completely overhauled”.

The portfolio committee on rural development and land affairs, chaired by ANC MP Stone Sizani, is scheduled to be briefed by the department on “some of the key policy review issues” on April 13, according to a schedule released yesterday. These include the willing seller, willing buyer approach to land redistribution “and regulation of ownership of land by non-South African citizens”.

AgriSA president Johannes Moller said a previous draft was cause for real concern. “We believe that in the current form, the reforms are unworkable.”

Given that foreign ownership of agricultural land was estimated at less than 2 percent of all farmland, “one wonders why South Africa is intent on sending out a negative signal for investor confidence”.

The idea that foreigners could only hold agricultural land if they partnered with black South Africans “smacks of Zimbabwe”, where an indigenisation law applies to agriculture and business. “We should stay as far away from the Zimbabwe model as possible.”

Landbouweekblad, the Afrikaans farming publication, reported that a member of the National Planning Commission, Mohammad Karaan, was rewriting the green paper.

Mxotwa confirmed the paper was “still being refined”. All the concerns on land matters, including foreign ownership and the use of surplus land, would be “addressed”.


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