Land grab fears ‘threaten’ SA’s agric investment

South African president Jacob Zuma on Friday restated plans to legislate for the seizure of farmland by the government without compensation, in a bid to accelerate the redistribution of land from large land owners to the country’s black majority.

“We need to take bold steps that will transform our economy, including land ownership, very fast,” Zuma said in a speech outlining agricultural policy on Friday.

“We are busy amending (laws) to enable faster land reform, including land expropriation without compensation as provided for in the constitution.”

Political pressure

Land reform has been a key ANC platform since the end of apartheid, but so far has been based on a principle of government purchases from willing sellers, at fair prices.

But the government has faced pressure to pick up the pace of land reform, particularly from the left wing party EFF which advocates for expropriation without compensation, as well as from rural interests within the ANC.

The prospect of expropriation without compensation is strongly opposed by the farming industry, who hold that such a move is outlawed by the constitution.

Land reform ‘revolution’

Earlier this month the South African government announced plans for a “constitutional revolution” to fast-track long delayed land reforms.

A bill allowing the expropriation of land, but requiring fair compensation to be paid, has already been passed.

But South African president Jacob Zuma has delayed signing the bill, and has passed it back to the legislation, on the basis that it “might not pass constitutional master”.

“This is due to inadequate public participation during its processing,” Mr Zuma said earlier this month.

Another bill restricting foreign land purchasers to long leaseholds, rather than freehold ownership, and putting a cap on the amount of land that can be held by a single individual, is also in the pipeline.

Question of constitutionality

Both Mr Zuma, and South Africa’s land reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti, have insisted any measures will be enacted according the constitution.

But Annelize Crosby, legal and land affair advisor at the South African agricultural industry association AgrisSA, said the planned measures would be impossible without a change to the constitution.

Speaking to Agrimoney, Ms Crosby said it would “unthinkable to take land without compensation… it would be chaotic”.

Ms Crosby warned that the measures would hit investment in South Africa’s farming industry.

“There would be a risk that you lose everything without compensation.”

The ANC is committed to land reform without a fall in productivity, which could be hard to achieve if investment dries up.