Nkwinti moots cap on farm ownership
Parliament - Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Guguli Nkwinti on Friday proposed limiting land ownership by large scale farmers to 5 000 hectares and warned critics that the country risked a stark choice between redistribution and land grabs.
Speaking during his budget vote address in the National Assembly, Nkwinti said small, medium and large-scale would respectively be allowed to own 1,000 hectares [ha], 2,500 hectares and 5,000 hectares of land. The state planned to expropriate the remainder.
“Any excess land portions between each of these categories – small scale and medium scale; medium scale and large scale; and, above the 12,000 ha maximum, shall be expropriated and redistributed; and compensation will be on the basis of the ‘just and equitable’ principle enshrined in section 25(3) of our Constitution,” the minister said.
Nkwinti said the limit government had previously mentioned of 12,000 hectares would not apply to agricultural land, but to forestries, game farms and renewable energy farms as these enterprises required vast areas of land. The figure was advanced by President Jacob Zuma in his state-of-the-nation (SONA) address in February.
“We have come up with a special category to address the 12,000 ha maximum announced by the President during his SONA. We are proposing that this maximum applies only to three categories of land use: forestry, game farms and renewable energy farms, especially wind energy.”
Nkwinti said objections to government’s ban on foreign ownership of farm land, confirmed by Zuma in his February address, were ill-founded.
“The basis of their rejection is that it will drive away foreign investment, not only in the agricultural sector, but in the economy as a whole. We certainly do not agree with this view. Our conviction is that any investor, whether foreign or national, wants policy certainty. Once they understand what the policy is, they adapt accordingly.”
The debate saw heated objections from the oppostion parties, notably the Freedom Front Plus’s Pieter Groewewald, who said land reform had failed and the state did not have the money to carry out further expropriations, raising the question of whether it planned to take farms without compensation.
At a subsequent media briefing Nkwinti said his critics were wrong and while government was open to discussion on the exact figures he proposed as limits, it was not on the principle.
“In that speech it does not say this is final, it says this is what we are proposing,” he said, but added that he believed the mooted limits were reasonable.
He said the department had done research in Africa and around the world, and 1,000 hectares was large for a small scale farming operation.
“You can’t have a situation where when you want to bring on board more South Africans into the land space and you have huge farms with empty space belonging to individuals,” Nkwinti added.
“It is a recipe for conflict. Much as he thinks, Mr Groenewald that we are creating conflict, we can’t create conflict when we are servicing the majority of the people. We can only create conflict if we don’t do that because the majority of people will grab it for themselves in the future, very soon. Indications are there, it can happen. If you have a majority of South Africans who have no basis, no means of production … they are going to grab it from someone and that someone is the few that have it.
“So we must therefore redistribute land which is a source of wealth for everybody. It can’t be that you have a few South Africans and foreign nationals who own land in South Africa.”
He told an anecdote of driving through Limpopo recently, asking who a vast swathe of land belonged to and being told that it was owned by US business magnate and investor Warren Buffet.
That land is lying fallow, nothing is happening, here next door people are starving. It is immoral,” he said.
“The country must position itself to becoming fair. The past has been very brutal on the African people.”
Responding to a question, Nkwinti said he favoured the idea that farm workers be given preference when it came to redistribution.
Democratic Alliance MP Annette Steyn said she will ask that the parliamentary committee on land reform and rural development invite Nkwinti to expain under which authority he planned to implement the new policy of ownership ceilings.
She said it was aimed at white farmers but would eventually also hamper their emerging black counterparts.
“Effectively, when farms grow beyond the ANC’s proposed cap, government will expropriate them. This will preclude investment across the sector, including in in black-owned agri-businesses that have grown beyond a certain point.
“The DA supports equitable and just land reform. The latest ANC policies will have disastrous effects as they are being pushed through without comprehensive public participation.”