Who’ll determine land’s true value?

When selling land to the state for land reform, landowners only want accurate, market- related compensation. However, as Agri SA’s head of land reform Dr Theo de Jager writes, not only does government refuse to pay out, but selling to the state can take 42 months – a typical private transaction takes eight weeks.
Issue date : 08 August 2008

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Government seems hellbent on not paying market value for land transferred for land reform. Their defeat in the Land Claims Court and Court of Appeals with the Badplaas case, on which, since 2004, Affairs has based its accusations that landowners inflate land prices, has caused irreparable damage to the land market and the economy of rural areas because of ill-informed strategies to transfer land at the lowest possible price. T his blind drive towards cheap land reform, linked to the near-total collapse of post-settlement initiatives in the northern provinces, places nothing less than food security and economic stability in rural SA at risk.

Who is really inflating land prices?
The agriculture minister has repeatedly explained that drastic measures like the Expropriation Bill are necessitated by white farmers who want too much for their land. But a recent study by the Centre for Development and Enterprise showed that agricultural land prices escalated by 1,1% over the past three years. No-one has told her that her department actually appoints the property valuers and that landowners have no say in valuations. She doesn’t know that landowners who immediately accept government’s offer without any queries or conditions, wait an average of 13 months for a transaction to materialise.

Some have waited since 2004. S he has threatened that negotiations on price will no longer be allowed to exceed six months, after which she will not hesitate to expropriate because it delays land reform. In contrast, the acting land claims commissioner in Limpopo, Miyelani Nkatingi, explained in July 2008 their new policy of making very low offers to allow for negotiated settlements “as negotiations were never part of the price-fixing process in restitution before”. In January five Letsitele valley farmers immediately accepted offers. All enquiries with the responsible official over the next seven months led to nothing, and when the willing sellers collectively confronted the commissioner through Agri Limpopo, it emerged that the manager of quality control had some questions about certain aspects of the valuations. This is seven months after the acceptance of the offers!

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Gloomier is the fate of five more willing sellers who queried offers of 20% to 45% below market value, and with obvious mistakes on the size of developed areas in the valuation report. Or five willing sellers whose land was not valued. Farms in the fertile Harmony block between Hoedspruit and Tzaneen were valued in May 2007. After numerous fruitless visits and hundreds of calls and letters to the commission from farmers, lawyers, organised agriculture and agribusinesses, the commission made offers in July 2008. It was clear that 20% to 45% had been deducted from the values proposed by the professional valuer. Officials gradually admitted that it was the manager of quality control (who has no formal training or any experience in the property market) who took the liberty of making deductions.

Who’s holding up land reform?
Organised agriculture was furious, and to the mind of the willing sellers, government was fining them with a 20% to 45% penalty for being willing sellers. They must also pay the transfer costs themselves if they refuse to use government’s conveyancers. hose who agreed to government conveyancers, as in the Mashishimale claim in Phalaborwa, had to hunt down the transfer attorney themselves after he disappeared with their money for 18 months. Confronted with these random deductions, the commissioner explained that Section 25 of the constitution allows them to acquire land without using market value as the guiding principle to establish a price.

Questioned on the history of how the current owner obtained the land, what he paid for it and which subsidies and state support he enjoyed over the years, he couldn’t answer how his officials conducted the research and how they measured the land’s value in calculating the final offers. Ignoring the owner’s investment in developing the farm, and all his inputs to improve the land, has scared away progressive farmers and agricultural investors. Blaming exorbitant land prices on