Diplomats baffled by state land plan

2015-02-15 16:00

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President Jacob Zuma’s announcement of new laws barring foreigners from owning land in South Africa has sent shock waves through the international and diplomatic communities.

City Press confirmed with three diplomatic sources that President Zuma’s announcement during his state of the nation address (Sona) on Thursday had stirred worry about the future of the country among foreign diplomats.

In his speech, the president said: “Foreign nationals will not be allowed to own land in South Africa, but will be eligible for long-term lease.”

The government does not know at the moment how much South African land foreigners own, and the diplomats plan to raise their concerns once they know more details about the policy.

Matthias Boddenberg, the executive director of the Southern African-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called the president’s announcement “surprising”.

“On the one hand, Sona reiterated how important foreign investment is for South Africa. The next moment, land ownership by foreigners is flat out declined. There is a certain inconsistency in the policy,” Boddenberg said.

“On the other hand, we don’t know anything yet of the details of the policy. It is possible that it is just a misunderstanding.”

Speaking for the British High Commission, Isabel Potgieter said: “We continue to work with South Africa to support their economic development and promote our bilateral trade and investment relationship. We would be concerned at measures that might affect this.”

Linda Page, spokesperson for Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti, on Friday said government’s long overdue land audit would be completed later this year.

Zuma’s announcement prompted Lew Geffen, the head of Sotheby’s International Realty, to suggest foreigners should “make hay while the sun shines”. In other words, investors should buy land before any policy is formalised.

“I can’t see government dispossessing foreigners’ assets without an international outcry. Those who possess land before the cut-off date should be able to keep it,” Geffen said.

Professor Andries du Toit, director of the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, described Zuma’s announcement as “wayward”, adding that abolishing foreign land ownership would not solve the land reform issues plaguing South Africa.

“This is part of a chauvinistic discourse that wants to blame foreigners and non-Africans [for land reform issues],” said Du Toit.

On Friday at The New Age business breakfast discussion, President Zuma elaborated on his announcement: “The majority of the population does not have land, right? And people who buy and own land, but who do not live in this country, make the problem worse. The best land is bought by foreigners.”

The Resolution on Land Reform, to be filed in Parliament later this year, will provide more clarity on the plans. – Additional reporting by Carien du Plessis

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