Government to regulate foreign-owned land

Congress Mahlangu

The ownership of land or property by foreigners comes into the spotlight as the government prepares policy on the issue as part of the land redistribution programme.

This follows a meeting between Director General of the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs Dr Gilingwe Mayende and his home affairs counterpart, Billy Masetlha. New government policy will include regulations regarding the sale of land to foreigners.

The issue will be discussed in a meeting of the director generals of all government departments.
Thereafter it will be tabled in Parliament for debate.

Mayende says the initiative arose out of ongoing research, as his department develops and reviews land policy from time to time with a view to identifying high-potential agricultural land for the redistribution process.

Research shows that the regulation of foreign-owned assets would help identify under-utilised land that could be used for resettlement and alter the current imbalances within agriculture.

Agriculture South Africa, a union that represents predominantly white commercial farmers, believes the government should not intervene with the free-market system for land ownership in general.

The union’s labour director, Kobus Kleynhans, says: “[What matters] is the question of the productivity of the land in foreign ownership.”

For Kleynhans the real issue should be whether a foreign individual is using that land productively and for the benefit of the people.

Masetlha welcomes Mayende’s research initiative. “All over the world there is a regulation governing foreign ownership of land, which makes it important that our country look at the issue very seriously. This will assist us in avoiding a situation where there is absentee-landlord ownership, that is, a foreigner buys land without being productive.”

The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Affairs would not comment on whether the new policy would be similar to the Zimbabwean land grabs of commercial farms by the state for the settlement of peasant communities.

Ministerial representative Moses Mushi says: “Until such time that [Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Thoko Didiza] is duly briefed on this issue, she will be unable to comment on it.”

This new policy orientation towards the regulation of foreign-owned land comes in the wake of a spate of foreign buyers snapping up property in the Western Cape’s historical Breede River valley. The towns affected are Robertson, Bonnievale, Montagu and McGregor.

Breede Valley representative Polla van Wyk welcomes any investment in the area and says there have been numerous enquiries about the wine farms. She cited Robertson, Bonnievale, Montagu and McGregor as favourites for buyers from Germany and the United Kingdom.

“Smallholdings along the Breede River are very popular and are selling for between R250 000 and R1-million. People mostly want to establish holiday homes on them, particularly those [properties] right on the river.”

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