November 14, 2002

SOUTH AFRICA: Continuing discussion on land reform

The discussion about Land Reform in South Africa is increasing. There are about 55.000 white farmers in SA now, and they own most of the agricultural land, about 86-million hectares. This means 0,1% of the population owns about 70% of SA's land surface. This is why the question of limiting the foreign ownership of land was the subject of a governmental investigation. But Deputy President Jacob Zuma said November 13, that Government has no plans to limit the foreign ownership of land in South Africa.

The possibility of a ban on foreign ownership of land in the country was raised earlier in November in the context of a resolution which will go before the African National Congress's (ANC's) national conference in December. The resolution calls for "usage patterns in the country, especially the sale of land to foreigners, which leads to pricing beyond the reach of South Africans" to be investigated.

Both the conference resolution and the investigation are signs of government's way of managing the increased pressure on it over land reform ahead of the ANC conference. In the beginning of November, the ANC acknowledged increased pressure around land hunger with the issue being described as "a national grievance" but insisted that property rights, including those of foreigners, were constitutionally protected.

Zuma, in reply to a question from Democratic Alliance MP Nick Clelland-Stokes, said: "The land affairs department is currently conducting research into the matter of foreign ownership of land in SA. The research, among other matters, will address the numbers and types of cases involved and will also entail a comparative study of countries facing similar challenges. "Government has no plans at present to limit the foreign ownership of land. However, government acknowledges that there are concerns that need to be addressed. However, options cannot be considered until the research is completed. If government were to consider restrictions on land ownership, such an issue would have to be thoroughly discussed between various government departments and other stakeholders."

Clelland-Stokes, in a follow-up question, said that foreign purchases of land were a form of direct foreign investment and as such were little different from selling portions of state-owned enterprises to foreign investors.

Zuma strongly disagreed, saying the two issues could not be compared. He said the whole of Telkom could be sold, but that did not mean that the land of a country was lost. He suggested that in an extreme scenario a people could end up with a country that was wholly owned by a foreign company.

Pan Africanist Congress leader Stanley Magoba welcomed the news that an investigation into land matters was under way. He said land was too important to leave to chance.

Last week ANC chief whip Nathi Nhelko said that land deprivation was a national grievance for South Africans. "They want to own land. They did not say government must ban land ownership by foreigners." He stressed that all property rights were constitutionally protected, but government did have the right to know who owned what land in the country.

The existing Land Reform Programme requires landless people to buy land from willing sellers using government grants. The programme is entirely based on a demand-led system, which means the price of land is set at the market value. A 30% reduction in funds available to buy land will slow already sluggish land redistribution. If government's current aim is achieved, in 2016, the tiny group of white farmers will still own 60-million hectares half SA's total land area. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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