Cape Town - The new land reform policy proposals tabled by Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti are a recipe for agricultural disaster, the Democratic Alliance warned on Tuesday.
“(They) will exacerbate insecurity, destroy jobs, escalate the already catastrophic exodus of farming expertise from the industry, and have dire implications for food security in the medium-term,” DA leader Helen Zille told journalists at Parliament.
Zille said her party supported the approach of turning farm workers into farm owners, but wondered why government had made such a “profound departure” from the land reform model proposed in its National Development Plan, which had the buy-in of the DA and others.
Nkwinti's final policy paper on land reform and restitution, finalised in February this year and titled “Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land”, has sparked alarm and uncertainty among South Africa's farmers.
The document proposes that farm labourers assume ownership of half the land on which they are employed. This would be “proportional to their contribution to the development of the land, based on the number of years they had worked on the land”.
The “historical owner” of the farm “automatically retains” the other half.
According to the proposals, with a deadline for feedback of April next year, government “will pay for the 50 percent to be shared by the labourers”.
This money would not be paid to the farm owner, but “go into an investment and development fund (IDF), to be jointly owned by the parties constituting the new ownership regime”.
“The government will deposit its contribution into the IDF, not to the farmer, for that would be double compensation. He/she will benefit, like all others, from dividends allocated by the IDF.
“With that contribution, the government earns the status of ex-officio member of the management of the fund, and should be entitled to a single representative on it.”
The fund would be used to “develop the managerial and production capacity of the new entrants to land ownership”, to further invest in the farm, and to “pay out people who wish to opt out of the new regime”.
Nkwinti's proposal appears to apply to those workers who have worked and lived on a farm for 10 years or longer.
Zille told journalists on Tuesday that the Western Cape - of which she is premier - was keen to pilot the NDP's land reform plan, building on the province's experience of its own farm equity-share scheme.
She questioned why government appeared to have abandoned the NDP model in favour of Nkwinti's latest proposals.
“Why aren't we giving the NDP model a chance?” she asked.
DA MP Thomas Walters said the NDP model included the establishment of land committees, based on district municipalities. Here “all stakeholders - banks, government departments, local stakeholders - get together... with the necessary expertise to support land reform projects”.
Such a committee would, in co-operation with commercial farmers, identify productive land that could be used.
This included land already on the market, land owned by farmers under severe financial pressure, and land owned by absentee owners who wanted to sell, as well as land in deceased estates, he said.
Zille said the DA in Parliament would call for the land reform committee to debate Nkwinti's latest proposals.
“We will also oppose any legislation emerging from the minister's proposals in their current form,” she said.