Zuma's remarks put land ownership centre stage

President Jacob Zuma’s remarks in Polokwane on foreign land ownership will be clarified in the long awaited Green Paper on Land Reform, which will be tabled in ­Cabinet and Parliament in the first quarter of this year.

Zuma hinted in his speech that 2011 would see major changes in land reform. Leaked drafts of the Green Paper, circulated last year, indicate that foreigners will be allowed to own land in South Africa only if it was linked to productivity and partnerships with South Africans.

One leak suggested that foreign ownership would be “precarious”—if foreigners did not cultivate their land properly or did not partner locals they could lose it.

Zuma’s January 8 statement indicated that limitations on foreign land ownership would apply to the whole of the country and would probably take the form of 99-year lease agreements, as in Mozambique.

Analysts say the restrictions are not likely to be retrospective because amending current title deeds rights would result in laborious litigation.

The Green Paper also proposes a ceiling on the amount of land that individuals and companies can own, varying from region to region. Another proposal is that all unproductive state land should be leased out to increase production and that the state should have the right of first refusal when property owners decide to sell land.

Zuma said that the government would look at three forms of land holding—leasehold, limited freehold of private land and allowing foreigners to lease but not own land.

“If we — allow people to keep buying our land, we will end up with a country where other people own our land. This is why we need to be careful in how we handle foreigners who come to buy land,” he said.

The department of rural development and land reform was tight-lipped this week about when the Green Paper would be finalised. But the prominence Zuma gave to land indicates that the ANC could use it as an important electioneering tool.

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