Land grab warning

2008-04-09 00:00

WHILE a fairer distribution of land holding in South Africa is obviously essential, it is not happening. The Land Bank, which should be funding the process, has been looted by top officials of more than R2 billion meant for farmers, to fund their friends’ luxury golf estates, a sugar mill, equestrian centres and residential developments.

The Department of Land Affairs, which should be the chief administrative facilitator of the process, is notorious for its lack of capacity. Deals in which there is both a willing seller and a willing buyer are delayed by bureaucratic ineptitude.

And even where land reform has been achieved, new commercial farmers, because of lack of training or motivation, have failed to help feed the nation. Production on 44% of such farms has declined and approximately a quarter have not produced anything at all since the land was transferred.

Instead of correcting the shortcomings in the present dispensation, however, the government proposes to take a sledgehammer to the situation with the passage of the Expropriation Amendment Bill which aims to ensure that 30% of white farmland is transferred to black ownership by 2014. Alarm has been raised, however, by government empowering itself to expropriate land and other property by paying “just and equitable” — not market-related — compensation. And the bill provides that only after the planned expropriation authority has issued a final expropriation notice would the land owner have an opportunity to object to the amount of compensation offered. Even worse, it restricts the powers of the courts to review the proceedings.

As it now stands, the bill is probably unconstitutional and could well be struck down by the Constitutional Court. Its passage, however, could put South Africa on the same slippery slope down which Zimbabwe has already disappeared. The dire consequences of the collapse of agriculture in that country are a frightening warning.

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