100822. Cape Town. President Jacob Zuma speaking at a school in Mitchells Plain. Picture henk Kruger/Cape Argus/Cape Times

KwaZulu-Natal - The government was warned on Sunday that it faced a Constitutional Court challenge if its efforts to fast-track land reform were not implemented properly.

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union chief executive Sandy la Marque said “there is reason for concern” but if the government complied with the constitution there should not be any problems.

On Saturday, presenting the ANC’s January 8 statement in Durban, President Jacob Zuma said the government would replace “willing buyer, willing seller” with the “just and equitable” principle when expropriating farms for land reform.

The party committed itself at the elective conference in Polokwane in 2007 to transfer 30 percent of the 82 million hectares of agricultural land that were white-owned in 1994 to black people by 2014.

However, the government was unlikely to reach the target given the slow pace of land reform, Zuma said. “The implementation of these measures will take into account the principles contained in the constitution in relation to land expropriation,” he said.

“For us the constitution is the backbone,” said La Marque.

Section 25 of the constitution was very specific about the process and all the factors, apart from market value, that had to be taken into account when expropriating land.

Constitutional law expert Paul Hoffman said it was possible to expedite the land restitution process within the framework of the constitution.

“Willing buyer, willing seller” had been a “lazy” way of resolving the land issue and was not part of the provisions of Section 25, he said. “So abandoning it is just fine as long as they stick to what the constitution requires.”

Agri SA deputy president Theo de Jager said the bottom line was that the government did not want to pay market-related prices.

“The ANC has no comprehension of the need for investment to remain competitive; they have not learnt from the numerous unintended consequences from all the previous programmes of land reform,” he said.

By dumping the concept of “willing buyer, willing seller”, the government was just going to implement all the other criteria which existed for land expropriation to take place.

Zuma’s announcement was no surprise as the ANC had decided in 2007 to scrap the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle.

He said its proposed scrapping had already led to “active disinvestment” in the agricultural sector. About 1 000 South African farmers had settled in Mozambique but still sold their fresh produce on the markets in Joburg, Cape Town and Pretoria, which had serious cost implications and also raised serious food security concerns.

The other implication of scrapping the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle was that banks would be reluctant to accept farms as collateral, said De Jager.

However, the National African Farmers Union (Nafu) welcomed Zuma’s announcement, rejecting the principle of willing buyer, willing seller as unworkable and an attempt by the government to “appease” white farmers.

Otto Mbangula, the managing director at Nafu Agri-Business Chamber, said his organisation had noted some time ago that the policy would not deliver the desired transfer of significant land.

“This model will never bring back land to our people because white landowners and farmers are driven by so-called market forces which are informed by personal greed. Every time a farm is up for sale, and the government is the likely client, white owners inflate the price of the farm,” he said.

“I am happy the government wants to scrap this… policy.”

The Landless People’s Movement, which fights for the rights of farm dwellers and for the fast-tracking of land restitution, echoed these sentiments, saying people had been waiting too long to be given their land back.

“We fully agree with Zuma’s stance because the current policy has delayed the process of land restitution,” said Sithembiso Mahlaba, the chairman of the movement in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The government should expropriate the land. We have made several submissions to the government to this effect.” - The Mercury