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16 Oct 2015 00:00
Much hinges on the success of commercial farming and AgriSA's apparent desire to appease the state could lead to the rights of property owners being undermined. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)
South Africa’s 35 000 remaining commercial farmers (down from 60 000 in 1996) are vital to the food security of 54-million South Africans (up from 40-million in 1995). They also contribute 3.9% of the country’s gross domestic product, employ more than 650 000 mostly unskilled people and help to boost exports and hold down the current account deficit.
They generally have good relationships with their workers and don’t pay less than the statutory minimum wage.
Many have also done all they can to mentor new black farmers and generally help with the process of land reform.
Commercial farmers underpin the rural economy and the prosperity of small rural towns. This means that increased investment in commercial agriculture is vital to the rural economy.
Despite this, South Africa’s commercial farmers are under attack. They already face a raft of damaging policies that threaten the success of commercial farming. Now many of these policies are being ratcheted up, putting the future of farming still further at risk. This policy brief explains why this is happening and what the farming community must do to safeguard its future.
Failure of land reformMany farmers have long accepted the need for land reform to overcome the ongoing effects of past racial laws prohibiting the purchase of agricultural land by black people and the forced removal of more than 1.1-million Africans from “white” rural areas in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yet land reform to date has largely been a dismal failure. Since 1994, about R69-billion in real terms has been spent by the state on buying about seven million hectares of land for redistribution or restitution, against a target of some 26-million hectares. The amount already spent is very close to the net value of all agricultural land in the country (R71-billion), but 19-million hectares still remain to be transferred.
In addition, between 70% and 90% of all land reform projects have failed, with beneficiaries being unable to produce any marketable surplus. Productive land has thus been taken out of use without any resulting benefit to anyone in jobs, income or agricultural production.
Overall, land reform has been so badly implemented that, where it has been applied, it has probably done more damage to commercial farming than the South African War.
But land reform is also a sham because:
Despite these many problems, land reform is now being stepped up through legislation recently adopted or now in the policy pipeline.
Threat in new lawsMuch of the threat to commercial farming comes from a spate of new laws and policies, six of which are outlined below.
AgriSA is an important role-player in the agricultural sector, but the Institute of Race Relations is concerned about some of the positions adopted by AgriSA, because these suggest that it does not fully comprehend the threat to commercial farming and may not be doing enough to protect farming interests.
For example, AgriSA has welcomed the expropriation Bill and rejected criticisms of its unconstitutionality. Thanks mainly to the institute’s sustained objections, the Bill may now be amended to give the magistrate’s courts jurisdiction to rule on both the validity of an expropriation and the amount of compensation payable.
But even if these changes are made, this will still not be enough to protect property owners, either black or white.
On general principles of constitutional interpretation, the onus lies on the state to prove that all constitutional requirements for a valid expropriation have been met. It is not the job of the expropriated owner to show that these criteria have not been fulfilled.
Moreover, the state must provide this proof before it proceeds with a disputed expropriation, as the constitutional guarantees otherwise have little practical significance. Great harm may also be done by an unconstitutional expropriation – and this harm might not be easy to reverse.
The institute has thus proposed an alternative expropriation Bill, under which:
These changes would make it more difficult for the land department or any other organ of state to abuse the power to expropriate.
AgriSA has failed to make or support these important changes, perhaps because it sees the need to maintain a good relationship with the government as more compelling.
Good relations with the state are, of course, desirable. But the institute’s experience, over several decades, is that appeasement does not work and that bad policy must always be opposed.
Frans Cronjé is the chief executive of the Institute of Race Relations. This is an excerpt from a policy brief produced by the institute at the request of the Transvaal Agricultural Union.
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