The Director General of land affairs and former chief land claims commissioner Tozi Gwanya now blames the dismal failure of more than half of South Africa’s land reform projects on the fact that government bought only land and didn’t acquire farms as going concerns. He recently told the media that the proposed Land and Assistance Amendment Bill would go a long way towards helping government acquire the assets that make a farm a business such as tractors, implements, livestock and even shares in cooperatives and trusts.
I ronically, this follows countless accounts of farmers who for the past 10 or more years have been trying to sell farming operations to the Claims Commission along with their land, without success. The commission’s response has always been that its mandate was to transfer land, not businesses. O ne of the many victims of this policy was Magoebaskloof farmer Spencer Drake. Last year Farmer’s Weekly reported how he wanted to sell and continue as a partner with shares in a saw mill and timber treatment company along with the new land owners.
Drake’s idea was that his sawmill would also be used to process wood from neighbouring farms that had been claimed, on the basis that it was of no use for the new farmers to get plantations without a means of processing the wood. The business was also set to fund training and skills development initiatives. “One of my envisaged expansions was an aquaculture plant valued at about R6 million,” explained Drake.
“Everything was in place. had started with construction, but couldn’t continue after my land was gazetted because the commissioner wouldn’t commit to repaying my investment if and when the land was bought.” N ow Drake and 71 other willing sellers have been told they should accept new offers that amount to only 60% of the offers they accepted for their land almost two years ago, or face expropriation. And it is the expropriation clause in the Land and Assistance Amendment Bill that concerns commercial farmers. Giving evidence before a parliamentary portfolio committee two weeks ago, Agri SA expressed support for a provision which provides for going concerns – farms with movable assets and shares in farming businesses – to be acquired by the state on a voluntary basis for redistribution purposes.
In its submission, to the portfolio committee on agriculture and land affairs, Agri objected strongly to the Expropriation Act being used to expropriate movable assets and shares under the auspices of land reform, which the proposed bill would allow the minister of land affairs and agriculture to do.
The organisation argued that expropriation should not be used for redistribution purposes as more than enough agricultural land is available on the open market. Despite the temporary shelving of the controversial Expropriation Bill, TAU spokesperson Chris van Zyl feels this is just another attempt by government to lay claim to enterprises commercial farmers have built up over many years without paying the full price.
Farmer’s unions feel the mere threat of the Expropriation Bill has shaken investor confidence in South Africa’s farming sector to the point where it imported more agricultural produce than it exported for the first time in history last month. “As more farmers leave the country to farm in neighbouring countries, we should ask ourselves if we can afford all these bills that seek to expropriate or threaten to do so below market value,” concluded Dr Theo de Jager of SA’s land committee. – Jasper Raats