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

Parliament - Blacks had been “bending over backwards” on land reform and restitution, but no longer, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said on Tuesday.

“It is unsustainable. We cannot go on like this,” he told MPs in the National Assembly.

Nkwinti recently tabled land reform proposals which, if enacted, would see farmers giving half their land to their workers.

Earlier, Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald labelled the proposals “irresponsible”, and said his party had been hearing from farmers that they were looking at emigrating to farms elsewhere.

The proposals had caused great uncertainty, he said.

Responding, Nkwinti quoted African National Congress founder member John Langalibalele Dube on the passing of the 1913 Natives Land Act.

“The white ox has got all the pasture; the black ox has nowhere to graze.”

He said not much had changed since then.

“We have been bending over backwards as black people, particularly African people... It is time that all of us took responsibility for progress... for South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white,” he said to loud applause.

The minister's latest policy paper on land reform and restitution, finalised in February this year and titled “Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land”, has sparked alarm and uncertainty among farmers.

The document proposes that farm labourers assume ownership of half the land on which they are employed. This would be “proportional to their contribution to the development of the land, based on the number of years they had worked on the land”.

The “historical owner” of the farm “automatically retains” the other half.

According to the proposals Ä with a deadline for feedback of April next year Ä government “will pay for the 50 percent to be shared by the labourers”.

This money would not be paid to the farm owner, but “go into an investment and development fund (IDF), to be jointly owned by the parties constituting the new ownership regime”.

“The government will deposit its contribution into the IDF, not to the farmer, for that would be double compensation. He/she will benefit, like all others, from dividends allocated by the IDF.

“With that contribution, the government earns the status of ex-officio member of the management of the fund, and should be entitled to a single representative on it.”

The fund would be used to “develop the managerial and production capacity of the new entrants to land ownership”, to further invest in the farm, and to “pay out people who wish to opt out of the new regime”.

Nkwinti's proposal appears to apply to those workers who have worked and lived on a farm for 10 years or longer.

Groenewald criticised government's land reform and restitution efforts to date, many of which had failed.

Nkwinti conceded that, four years ago, 95 percent of the land restored to black farmers was unproductive.

“But today, 27 percent of that land is productive. In fact, over the past three years, we've produced at least three millionaires, people who've got cash in the bank.

“We're actually rekindling the class of black commercial farmers that was destroyed by the 1913 Natives Land Act,” he said to more applause.