SA govt plans revised farm takeover law

The government plans to resubmit a Bill to Parliament that would allow it to seize land from farmers if negotiations to buy the land from them failed, a government official said on Thursday.

The Expropriation Bill was submitted to Parliament last year as part of efforts to speed up the process of handing over 30% of agricultural land to landless black South Africans by 2014.

But it was put on hold after opposition parties, farmers’ bodies and other civic groups protested, arguing it was unconstitutional and would be similar to Zimbabwe’s land grabs, which were a major factor behind economic decline there.

“The minister of public works and the minister of rural development are in the process of reviving the discussions of the Bill so that they can go and reopen the debate and the hearings [in Parliament],” Thozi Gwanya, director general of Rural Development and Land Affairs Ministry, told Reuters on the sidelines of a farmers’ congress.

“We don’t have a timeline yet for when it will return to Parliament.”

After the fall of apartheid in 1994, the government set itself a target of handing 30% of all agricultural land to the black majority by 2014.

However, much of the land has not been used for farming and has laid idle for years.

Land reform is an emotive issue in South Africa and has been brought into focus by the decline in agriculture in neighbouring Zimbabwe where white commercial farmers were often violently evicted by President Robert Mugabe’s government.

Pretoria has said its own land reform will be orderly, but critics say many of the same problems faced by Zimbabwe, including lack of proper support for new farmers and inadequate farming skills, are likely to hinder South Africa’s programme.

Gwanya said the government accepted it was unlikely to meet its 2014 deadline and was considering extending the date.

“The minister has said to Cabinet 2014 is not realistic in light of the budget constraints. We need R71-billion to complete the programme and it doesn’t look like we have that money ... so we may extend the date,” he said.

“Some of us are talking about 2025, but it’s still an issue that is in discussion at this stage.”

He said the government had so far handed over 5,2-million hectares of about 24-million hectares of agricultural land that was targeted for redistribution.

“We still have about 19,8-million hectares that we should deliver,” Gwanya said.
- Reuters

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