September 19, 2004

Didiza lays down the law to white farmers

Land Affairs and Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza has announced that the government would expropriate land from white farmers if an agreement on the price of the farms could not be reached. The minister's comments met with strong opposition from the white farming communities. Some farmers accused the government of making "ridiculous and unfortunate" demands. The public disagreement highlights the extent to which the government and farmers differ on how the politically sensitive policies of black economic empowerment (BEE) and land reform should be implemented. In July, big players in the commercial agricultural industry rejected the government's draft AgriBEE charter, saying it contained "unrealistic targets and expectations" that could lead to the "downfall of agriculture". According to Didiza, another proposal was that agricultural land should be turned into 50:50 partnerships between white farmers and black people who were removed from their land by the apartheid government more than 30 years ago with no compensation. Didiza stressed that giving money to people who were removed from land was not sustainable, therefore not an option. "We need to look at creative ways to address the interests of those who were removed from land and at the same time not affect the economic impact of that land," she said.
Meanwhile, Statistics South Africa have released results of the census on commercial agriculture, the first major study of the country's farms in 10 years, showing farm income at constant prices reached R53 billion in 2002 compared with R39 billion in 1993. But employment in commercial farms fell from more than 1.1 million people to 940.000 during the same period. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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