KZN farmers balk at land share plan

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Copy of digi farm (42790390) AP

Durban - Farmers in KwaZulu-Natal have dismissed as ridiculous a proposal by the government that they hand over as much as half of their land to employees to create racial and economic balance in South Africa.

Rural Development and Land Reform Minister, Gugile Nkwinti, completed the final draft of the “relative land rights proposal” in February, under the “Final policy proposals on ‘Strengthening the relative rights of people working the land’”.

Land stakeholders have 10 months left to support or fight proposed legislation.

The draft legislation reads: “The regime being proposed here is based on the relative contribution of each category of people to the development of defined land portions or farm units.

“The historical owner of the land automatically retains 50 percent of the land, while the labourers on the land assume ownership of the remaining 50 percent, proportional to their contribution to the development of the land, based on the number of years they had worked on the land.”

Dire warnings have been issued about the proposal.

Nkwinti said the proposal should be pursued with minimal or no disruption to food production and security.

“The proposal aims to rekindle the class of black commercial farmers which was destroyed by the 1913 Natives Land Act, colonial and apartheid regimes,” she said.

“The national wealth and heritage of our country will be restored to the people.”

The minister believes her plan will end restrictions of land ownership on racial basis, re-divide the land among those who work on it to “banish famine and land hunger”.

“The moral basis for these proposals is that fellow South Africans who benefited from the proceeds of the land dispossession wars and the race-based segregation policies and laws of successive colonial and apartheid regimes have a moral duty to contribute to the restoration of justice and national reconciliation effort.

“Secondly, maintaining the current status quo is politically undesirable and unsustainable,” Nkwinti said.

In terms of the proposal, the farmer as historical owner of the land automatically retains 50 percent of the land, while labourers assume ownership of the remainder proportional to their contribution to the development of that land.

“The government will pay for the 50 percent to be shared by the labourers, but the money will go into an investment and development fund to be jointly owned by the parties,” Nkwinti said.

“The fund will be used to develop the managerial and production capacity of the new entrants to land ownership, to invest on the farm as well to people who wish to opt out. The department will provide implements, seeds, tractors and dams to assist the tillers.”

However, Sandy La Marque, chief executive of the KZN Agricultural Union, said they were concerned by the unrealistic expectations created by this.

“This ridiculous proposal in all probability would not stand constitutional muster. Before embarking on this proposal the the vast number of outstanding land claims must first be resolved,” La Marque said.

“Food security should take centre stage and a constructive engagement around workable and realistic proposals would rather benefit the economic challenges and bring greater food security.”

Agri Wes-Cape chief executive, Carl Opperman, said the effect of what Nkwinti was saying was simply not feasible.

“First, if you look at the debt the farmers have on their land, in some cases it’s more than 50 percent, so if a farmer is forced to give up 50 percent ownership, he will, in effect, own nothing.

“Second, it is not economically viable, because of agriculture’s required economies of scale. In fact, we believe it’s going to negatively impact the economy of the whole country.”

Opperman explained that the banking system could crash if bonded land lost value dramatically, due to a rush by farmers to sell, for example.

“Then, on the emotional side, this proposal creates expectations for land, which is not going to be fulfilled, because we believe there’s not a court in the country which is going to uphold this legislation, as it is at present,” he said.

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