Govt eyes game farms

2010-03-18 09:49

Cape Town - Game farms in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape are being eyed by government for nationalisation as such agricultural concerns do not contribute to food security.

But farmers using all of the land available to them have nothing to fear from the state as it would be "stupid" to interfere.

These opinions were expressed by Dr Joe Phaahla, deputy minister of rural development and land reform and Thozi Gwanya, the department's director general, as tensions rose in the agricultural community about government's controversial land nationalisation plans.

They spoke after a meeting with Parliament's Standing Committee On Public Accounts (Scopa) - where the department received a dressing down for poor financial management - claiming that it was morally unjustifiable that many people were without land while some owned many thousands of hectares.  

New thinking about land reform

Although the department's much discussed strategic plan only contained suggestions, Phaahla and Gwanya said new thinking was required about land reform.

Phaahla explained that government had to balance the right to land with property rights.

He indicated that the thinking behind adjusting Article 25 came from too much emphasis perhaps being put on property rights at the cost of everyone's right to land.

He also explained how a precedent about the guardianship of natural resources had been created with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.

"According to this, the state retains its right to resources; that didn't scare mining houses.

"There are land-hungry people and there are people with huge pieces of land on which nothing is happening. Is this morally just? We have to develop formulas to determine whether land is being used optimally."

Gwenya couldn't explain how it would be determined what the optimum use of land would entail or how much cultivatable land was currently lying fallow.

"It is a problem and worrying that grain farmers turn their farms into game farms or sell to developers. It leads to a decrease in production."

Crisis meetings

These comments followed a series of crisis meetings with the agricultural community over the last few days in which farmers vented their anger about the government's plans.

Vice-president of AgriSA, Dr Theo de Jager, said he knew of emergency meetings in all nine provinces. "It is difficult to keep farmers positive with this insecurity all around."

Deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Dr Pieter Mulder, tried to pour oil on troubled waters at agricultural association meetings at Malmesbury.

"Farmers are fearing the Zimbabwe route. We are receiving concerned enquiries from all over."

Advocate Nikki de Havilland, director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said references to Article 25 made it clear government's plan was not aimed at food security but property rights.

"If they had been worried about food security, it would not have been necessary to refer to 'productive agricultural concerns' and it could be aimed purely at the failed land reform process."

What did government say?

Joe Phaahla, deputy minister of rural development and land reform:

"I don't know what farmers are concerned about. No-one is threatening to take away their farms, no-one.

"No law has changed, the Constitution hasn't changed, no policy has changed. All we are saying is this: Let's talk about the challenges of the land-hungry and access to food production.

"Why would anyone say: 'I can't farm anymore because a debate is being held?'

"There has been no policy change. The message is therefore: There is nothing to be afraid about; people should continue producing, the country and its people remain grateful towards the farmers who are feeding the nation.

Thozi Gwanya, the department's director general: "Should farmers for example stop farming because of climate change? Should they stop because of fears about drought amongst others, stop and say: Oh, we live in a terrible world?' No."

The strategic plan

All productive land would be declared national assets with leasehold systems and transferable or limited property rights. This could lead to an adjustment of Article 25 of the Constitution which guaranteed property rights or

The revision of the current residential security system with a view to keeping the current form of property rights within a framework, which categorised farmers.

These options would be explored in the department's green paper on government's new policy for land reform, which would be presented to Cabinet at the end of this month.