February 16, 2007

State to be vigilant on land ownership issues, announces minister

The government will get tough by finally reviewing the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle, expropriating more land; introducing farm taxes; and regulating land owned by foreigners. Land and Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana signalled the government's impatience with what she called "tough-headed" farmers who were still resisting the land-reform and restitution process by frustrating negotiations. "Where there are problems, we negotiate as far as we can. As you know, we only have up to 2008 to finalise claims ... so we have to take the action of expropriation," she said.
The expropriation law, which will be in force in June, will be amended to make it easier for the government to conduct the expropriation process. "(The proposed bill) will assist us in the same way that we have been able to speed up restitution of land claims through expropriation. However, that does not mean we will expropriate and forget the people who previously owned the land. "We will still do so according to the law, within the constitution of South Africa. We will be paying market value for the land that is expropriated," Xingwana said.
According to her predecessor, current Public Works Minister Thoko Didiza, the proposed law would emphasise that expropriation was done in the public interest. "The procedure will relate to how that compensation is determined within the market value," she said. Didiza also emphasised that five years of protracted negotiations had prevented 6.000 claims from being finalised, hence the need to speed up the expropriations. The first land that was expropriated belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa, which, according to Xingwana, demanded R72-million, while the government was offering R35-million. She said the church agreed to the amount but demanded "unprecedented" interests. "We decided that we had no option but to expropriate, we have deposited 80 percent of the amount ... but the government is still willing to pay the market value for this land." Xingwana added that "there are quite a number of (expropriation) notices I have signed".
She noted that there was a lot of goodwill on the part of many farmers who had accepted the market value of their property, and this had resulted in land worth R1-billion being handed over. According to her, the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle would certainly be reviewed, and the department would also consider introducing a land tax to make it harder to own more than one farm. "We will also be discussing whether ... if you have five farms and there are people who are landless, what do we do about that to encourage you to share or learn to share a bit with others." The minister said the report on land ownership by foreigners would be tabled before the cabinet in February or early in March but emphasised that "we will be looking at regulating". (The Star, Johannesburg)

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