Unions see red over minister’s attack

Farmers’ unions have expressed dismay at the rural development and land reform minister’s comments that the willing buyer, willing seller tenet of land redistribution needs a major overhaul.

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Farmers’ unions have expressed dismay at the rural development and land reform minister’s comments that the willing buyer, willing seller tenet of land redistribution needs a major overhaul.
In his budget vote speech on 18 June, Gugile Nkwinti repeated remarks made twice to parliament since he took over the portfolio in May, that government couldn’t afford land prices.
On the same day, agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Petterssen said partnerships with organised agriculture were crucial if South Africa wanted to become a nett food exporter again. Farmers’ unions welcomed her remarks but accused government of sending mixed messages.
The South African Press Association (Sapa) reports Nkwinti also told the National Assembly that foreigners buying golf estates and game farms were making land unaffordable for South Africans, who could not be expected to wait much longer for land redress “before they explode”.
Representatives of Agri SA and TAU SA both said they’d been promised a clarification meeting with Nkwinti within weeks.
Just 6% of white-owned farmland has been distributed since 1994 to reverse the impact of racist restrictions on land ownership under apartheid, which means the government is hopelessly off track to meet its target of transferring 30% by 2014.
In its new strategic plan released this month, the department calculates it needs at least double the current Treasury allocation to meet the target. The plan, signed off by Nkwinti, suggests that, unless targets or budgets are revised, land price ceilings for expropriated farms would be considered.
Spokesperson Eddie Mohoebi declined to clarify whether Nkwinti’s comments signalled that government planned to revive the Expropriation Bill shelved last year. The law would’ve made it easier for the government to cap the amount of compensation paid for expropriated farms.
Farmer’s Weekly understands a new task team has been appointed to redraft the Bill, but has been instructed to water down provisions that caused it to be branded unconstitutional last year.
These include allowing the executive rather than the courts to decide on compensation.
The constitution allows the state to expropriate farms for land reform and subtract apartheid subsidies from the price paid, but this has never been implemented because of the negative effect this would have on investor sentiment.
But farmers’ unions and the Democratic Alliance (DA) warned that Nkwinti’s comments were already harming investor prospects in the agricultural sector.
Dr Theo de Jager of Agri SA told Farmer’s Weekly he’d been inundated with calls from members who’d shelved investment plans until the government clarified whether it meant to expropriate farms at below market value. “We’re getting mixed signals, and this is causing the whole investment mood to freeze up again.”
TAU issued a statement expressing alarm at Nkwinti’s “attack on the principle of a willing seller, willing buyer concept [that] does not mean any good for agriculture, especially as the expropriation option has been mentioned several times.”
The DA also issued a statement expressing “disappointment” that Nkwinti had chosen to use the willing buyer, willing seller model “as a scapegoat for his department and his government’s own failings”.
“Successful economies are built on the bedrock of the protection of property rights and there’s a strong symbiotic relationship between property rights and positive economic growth,” Mpowele Swathe, the DA’s shadow minister of Rural Development and Land Reform said.
“More than 50% of farms redistributed have collapsed, and are no longer productive because the department has managed the process so badly.” – Stephan Hofstätter