Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti

Cape Town - The DA has expressed “grave concern” about potential damage to the South African economy - if a new bill is passed restricting foreign ownership of land.

The Acquisition and Disposal of Land by Foreign Persons Bill is due to be presented before Parliament before the end of the year, the Weekend Argus reported on Sunday.

The assurance was given on Sunday that this would not include expropriation, said Mtobeli Mxotwa, spokesman for the Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti.

But the bill could still contain far tighter restrictions on land purchase by foreigners, after the bill is thrashed out by the cabinet.

Thomas Walters, the DA’s spokesman for Rural Development and Land Reform, warned on Sunday night: “It’s government policy, and part of the National Development Plan, to create jobs, attract investment and build the economy.

“And yet we see worrying messages like this going out to our foreign investors, which appear to sabotage our policies. Foreign investment of every kind results in the creation of more jobs - why would you want to de-incentivise that?”

Walters said the proposed legislation was “ill-conceived” and “poorly-researched”.

“By the department’s own admission, we don’t know how much South African land is foreign-owned, so we don’t even know what the problem is, let alone if there is a problem,” Walters argued.

Walters urged the government to begin with proper research, “before making noises that could be seen as xenophobic by potential investors”.

“We don’t want to give away our sovereignty - we understand there has to be some oversight over foreign land ownership. But foreign investment remains essential for job creation. Take Hong Kong - without foreign investment it would still be a fishing village.

“Investment in land is no different to investment in business. For example, foreign investment could drive the success of black-owned agri-business and the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal,” Walters argued.

In the Weekend Argus on Sunday, Mxotwa said that proposed legislation would not be unprecedented - that countries such as Australia, South Korea and Russia had similar policies. But Walters said it was essential that potential foreign investors were not “scared off” in the process.

The DA has already expressed concern about the “disastrous consequences of the new immigration regulations for tourism, investment and jobs”, and is concerned that threatening messages against foreign land ownership could exacerbate this.

On Sunday, DA leader Helen Zille urged the ANC government: “Don’t drive away the people South Africa needs” - in response to new regulations for visitors to South Africa by the Department of Home Affairs.

“At first glance, the reasoning behind these regulations sounds fair: strengthen our border management, curb illegal immigration and prevent human trafficking. But make no mistake - these regulations will do none of these things. They are poorly-conceived, prematurely implemented and will have a profoundly negative impact on jobs and the economy,” Zille warned.

“The NDP emphasises the importance of tourism to growth and job creation. The sector currently employs 600 000 people and contributes over 3 percent to our GDP. According to the NDP, tourism should be able to create in the region of 225 000 additional jobs by 2020 while contributing, directly and indirectly, around R500 billion to our GDP. That could be an enormous contribution to our primary goal of poverty reduction.”

But new laws which placed “more hurdles in front of the people whose business we desperately need” could gravely jeopardise investment and attracting key skills.

Zille argued: “Instead of chasing skilled people away, we should focus our resources on shoring up our porous borders.”

Walters said the same argument applied to potential foreign land owners. “We shouldn’t chase away expertise and capital that we so desperately need to grow our economy and job creation.”

Cape Argus