Land reform proposals: fair compensation will prevail

The latest proposals for land reform have been met with surprise and panic by organised agriculture. But political analysts and the land reform department have stated that no farmer will be forced to sell land for below market value. Lindi van Rooyen reports.

- Advertisement -

President Jacob Zuma caused a stir last week with a land reform proposal that suggests that farmers be paid 50% of the market value for their farms and that the shortfall be made up by cash or in-kind contributions from the commercial farmers in the district. Speaking at the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) gala dinner in Pretoria, Zuma said that in exchange for accepting this proposal, commercial farmers will be protected from losing their land and gain black economic empowerment status.

But Johannes Möller, president of Agri SA, said that this bordered on extortion. “Although the proposal attempts to distribute the cost of land reform over a broader basis, it is not fair and equitable to encumber fellow landowners with the financial burden of land reform undertaken in the public interest. The fiscus has the necessary funds and should make its full contribution, as stipulated in the Constitution.”

Louis Meintjes, president of TAU SA, said that agriculture can’t assume government’s responsibility to handle social grants. “Agriculture is an economic and not a socialistic activity. If government wants to reform, it has to provide funds. It cannot expect victims to help pay for it.” Although Zuma’s proposals fall under the National Development Plan (NDP), organised agriculture maintains that these are new to them.

- Advertisement -

Annelize Crosby, Agri SA parliamentary representative, said that the announcement took them by surprise. “Even though the plan offered by Zuma largely reflects the land reform model proposed in the NDP, there has been no previous discussion about using this model.” Athol Trollip, DA spokesperson for rural development and land reform, said that the president had endorsed the NDP in parliament, but no action had been taken to make the proposals a reality.

“I am baffled that Zuma would suddenly say that land reform should be implemented according to the proposals in the NDP.”
The proposal suggests a district-based approach to land reform, each with its own committee. These district committees will be responsible for identifying 20% of the commercial agricultural land in the district and for giving commercial farmers the option of assisting in the land transfer to black farmers.

This would entail identifying readily available land already on the market; land where the farmer is under severe financial pressure; land held by an absentee landlord willing to exit; and land that is part of a deceased estate. Zuma said that in this way land could be obtained without distorting markets. 

Prof Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said that the kind of land that would be bought for land reform purposes was the kind of land “that nobody wants anyway”.  “They are talking about land that is a wasted asset and not being used. For someone to get 50% of the market value for that land would be more beneficial to them than keeping the land.”

Friedman said that the proposal could be improved upon. “But Zuma said that this is just an idea for land reform and welcomed more ideas from farmers. There is no proposal to seize anybody’s land.” He said that farmers had the right to refuse any offer to purchase from the government. Mtobeli Mxotwa, spokesperson for Rural Development and Land Reform minister Gugile Nkwinti, said that the department was guided by the Constitution when drawing up policies for land reform.

“The willing-buyer, willing-seller principle can never be scrapped because it will be unconstitutional. Farmers will receive equitable compensation for their land.” Friedman said that policies, including the Green Paper on Land Reform and Zuma’s proposals would be finalised at Mangaung and then presented to cabinet for approval. Mike Mlengana, president of Afasa, said that “it needs to be recognised that some farmers did benefit at the expense of others in the past. This new proposal might be harsh, but it is good.”

He said that commercial farmers were willing to mentor emerging farmers, but were less willing to part with their land. “This attitude needs to change.”