The Bill is back!

The one word that fills many South African farmers with even more trepidation than the thought of payday on the farm echoed through the halls of Parliament again recently, when the Portfolio Committee of Public Works resolved to adopt the latest version of the Expropriation Bill of 2015.

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In short, the Bill will be the death of the willing buyer/willing seller approach to land reform, and it was accepted by the Committee solely on the back of votes from ANC MPs.

All other parties failed to show their support. The Bill must still work its way through Parliament and prove that it is constitutional, but when it does receive President Zuma’s blessing, there can be little doubt that it will affect considerable changes in the relationship between government and owners of private property.

This week will mark one of the rare days during the year when South Africans across the socioeconomic spectrum will tune into the SABC to see if the EFF will again succeed in derailing Parliamentary proceedings, when the President delivers the 2016 State of the Nation Address on 11 February.

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In this issue of Farmer’s Weekly, Dr Frans Cronje of the SA Institute of Race Relations reflects on what President Zuma should say in his speech to breathe some life into our ailing economy . His council, unsurprisingly, does not include the implementation of legislation like the Expropriation Bill, which may discourage investment. Instead, he suggests that all land reform efforts should be suspended and laws and policies that threaten property rights should be repealed immediately.

Providing a more moderate view, Prof Ben Cousins of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies suggests, among others, that civil servants forego salary increases for a couple of years, thus alleviating some of the pressure on SA’s fiscus and freeing up money to spend on land reform – the ANC’s most underfunded top priority. As Prof Cousins points out, the budget for land reform has always been less than 1% of the national total.

It is unlikely that President Zuma will take any of the above on-board. Let us hope that his promises to again create jobs and economic opportunities, and to speed up land reform and service delivery, can be backed up with bankable plans and budgets for implementation.

Yes, there are encouraging success stories of job creation, entrepreneurship and land reform, but this year is not a year to celebrate small victories. South Africans will suffer economically in 2016 and we need a business minded government backed
by a president who is brave enough to contemplate the ways in which we are failing in a big way.

Denene Erasmus is the acting editor of Farmer’s Weekly.