Foreigners’ property safe for now

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Land reform minister Gugile Nkwinti GCIS Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti addresses the National Assembly. Photo: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

Parliament - Government will introduce legislation to stop foreigners buying land in South Africa but does not think it wise to expropriate existing foreign-owned land, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said on Wednesday.

“It is possible that we could experience difficulties making the law retrospective on this question,” Nkwinti told a media briefing, adding that the ruling party lacked the appetite for the Constitution change that would be required to do so.

He said the ANC was clear, however, that it would implement a resolution that in future foreigners could lease but not own land in South Africa.

This would be set out in the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill.

The legislation would be brought to Parliament around November, he said, but the cut-off point for foreigners to buy property would likely only come towards the end of the current administration.

This is because the legislation would give the state a legal framework to complete a land audit that would place on record the race, gender, and nationality of all owners.

At this stage, it is estimated that five to seven percent of land is in the hands of foreigners.

“We need to disaggregate that information in terms of race and nationality.”

Nkwinti said it was only once this process was completed, probably in five years, that land ownership would be restricted to locals as part of the state's drive to undo the injustices of the Natives Land Act of 1913 and “rekindle the class of communal black farmers destroyed” by the infamous apartheid law.

“Once we all agreed then we say from that moment forward no foreigner will own land but will lease land. But moving backwards, that is where the complication comes in. We are not sure that the Constitution will allow that ... It might not even be desirable.

“The ANC is not very keen on those kinds of things; as the ANC we think we would rather settle for stability and progress in the country.”

Nkwinti said the legislation would create a new model whereby foreigners would have a combination of freehold and leasehold, and would hold those rights for a minimum of 30 years.

“We cannot act in an arbitrary manner. The principle is that foreign nationals should not own land but should have a long-lease with a minimum of 30 years.”

He added that government would use the legal definitions currently applied by the department of home affairs to determine who was a foreigner.

“We don't have to reinvent the wheel, we will just use the definition of what a foreign national is in the country.”

Nkwinti rejected a suggestion that the ANC would consider an offer from the Economic Freedom Fighters to use their 25 votes in the National Assembly to help the ANC achieve a two-thirds majority vote to change the Constitution to allow land seizures without compensation.

“That is anarchy... and the ANC is very conservative when it comes to these things,” he said, adding that EFF stood for “everything for free”.

Earlier, EFF MP Andile Mngxitama accused Nkwinti of buying back “stolen” land and interjected during Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald's speech that he represented white people who had perpetrated a historical land grab.

He refused to withdraw the remarks and was told to leave the chamber. His fellow EFF MPs followed on his heels, shouting as they went.

Nkwinti on Wednesday also reiterated government's commitment to give farm workers and dwellers security of tenure, as this was vital for stability in the agriculture community.

The minister, who has come under fire for a further policy proposal that will see farmers cede up to half their land to workers, said unless labourers were given a stake in the land on which they worked, they would not do so in the right spirit.

He said the clutch of bills he would bring to Parliament this year would include the Communal Property Associations Amendment Bill that provided for the registration of title deeds on communal land in the names of individual households.

Nkwinti said institutionalising the land rights of vulnerable groups was critical because it would enable them to use these rights as collateral with banks, and this would prevent a past trend where many lost land and it reverted back to white ownership.

His department planned to recapitalise all failing land reform farms that were acquired since 1995 over the course of the next five years, Nkwinti added, but declined to estimate how much it would cost.

Sapa



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