Uproar over plan to share farm land

Durban - There will be massive disinvestment in agriculture if the government ambushes farmers with a “bizarre” policy forcing them to hand over 50 percent of their farms to workers to speed up land reform.

File photo: Shannon Dininny. Credit: AP

The draft policy, announced by national Minister for Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti in Joburg last week, has been greeted with horror by farmers, land groups and NGOs.

They say it would be unconstitutional, “absurd” and “unworkable”. One group, however, disagreed, saying the policy did not go far enough in favour of farm workers.

Nkwinti has given the sector a year to comment on the draft document.

According to the policy, farmers would be allowed to keep half of their farms, while their labourers would be given the remainder based on their years of service:

There is no mention in the document whether the workers would take equal responsibility for debt or liability, nor how the employment of workers who had yet to meet the 10-year service mark would be managed or who would be responsible for their wages.

The number of commercial farms in South Africa dropped from 59 000 in 2002 to 37 000 in 2007, according to Stats SA.

The KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) has noted that since the announcement of the minimum wage of R105 in February last year, the sector in KwaZulu-Natal had shed more than 30 000 jobs.

Nkwinti said South Africans who had benefited from the proceeds of land dispossession had a responsibility to restore the land to its rightful owners.

Kwanalu chief executive Sandy la Marque said Nkwinti had mooted the proposals, “Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land”, when the sector met in Parliament to discuss the Extension of Security of Tenure Act and the Labour Tenants’ Act in March last year.

She said when stakeholders met again in Parliament in August, the proposals had been rejected outright. “It was agreed it was not constitutional.”

But, two weeks ago, the union received an invitation to attend the Joburg meeting to discuss the “final” proposed policy, La Marque said.

“When it was presented last week it was a shock. There are now significant amendments which make it even more unreasonable,” she said.

Ruth Hall, from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of Cape Town, described the proposal as a “blunt response” to the complex land issues and Agri-BEE.

“I am sure it (the policy) has good intentions, but I can see problems, particularly high turnover of staff. Also, if the policy is voluntary, it will be constitutional, but then it has no teeth. If it is enforced then it is not constitutional,” she said.

Mike Cowling, from the Association for Rural Advancement in Pietermaritzburg, warned of massive disinvestment. “Farmers are going to pack up and leave,” he said.

Anthony Edmonds, who sold his Midlands farm to his labourers six years ago and now owns a management company in partnership with them to bring failed land claim farms back to production, described the idea as “absurd”.

“I think there has to be a lot more robust discussion on this,” he said.

Sithembiso Mahlaba, from KZN’s Landless People’s Movement, said the proposed policy did not go far enough.

He said the 3 million farmworkers should be entitled to 100 percent ownership of commercial farms. “We don’t agree with this policy,” he said.

Nkwinti’s spokesman, Mtobeli Mxotwa, said the minister had indicated that another 12 months were needed to debate the draft.