Government to focus on land reform in 2017

Pretoria - Government will take an aggressive approach towards land reform and redistribution this year.

This was announced by President Jacob Zuma who delivered the 2017 State of the Nation Address during a Joint Sitting of the two houses of Parliament on Thursday.

Government is of the view that it will be “difficult if not impossible, to achieve true reconciliation until the land question is resolved”.

While government’s land reform and redistribution programmes had yielded some successes since 1994, said President Zuma, large tracts of land still remain in the hands of very few people.

Data shows that only eight million hectares of arable land have been transferred to black people, which is only 9.8 % of the 82 million hectares of arable land in South Africa.

There has also been a 19 percent decline in households involved in agriculture from 2.9 million in 2011 to 2.3 million households in 2016.

“We had stated our intention of using the Expropriation Act to pursue land reform and land redistribution, in line with the Constitution. I have now decided to refer the bill back to Parliament for reconsideration on the basis that the bill might not pass constitutional muster. This is due to inadequate public participation during its processing,” President Zuma said.

The bill was voted for adoption in the National Assembly in May last year, however, President Zuma received objections against the signing of the bill into law from individuals and various organisations.

The petitions raised a number of procedural issues which include that procedures followed by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and some provincial legislatures in passing the bill were inconsistent with the Constitution.

Others include the failure by the NCOP to facilitate sufficient consultation with the public prior to the adoption of the bill, as well as the objection that the bill was not referred to the National House of Traditional Leaders as required.

Government introduced the bill in order to make progressive land purchases to address inequalities caused by the apartheid regime without being prevented by the willing buyer, willing seller principle.

It was introduced to make provision for a more coherent process of handling the expropriation of land and speeding up land reform.

It seeks to align the Expropriation Act of 1975 with the Constitution and to provide a common framework to guide the processes and procedures for the expropriation of land by organs of State.

The bill, once signed into law, would enable government to purchase land at a value determined by the State adjudicator and then expropriate - provided that the Minister of Public Works is satisfied that the land purchase is in the “public interest”.

President Zuma hoped Parliament will be able to move with speed in meeting the requirements so that the law can be finalised to effect transformation.

He told Members of Parliament on Thursday that the reopening of land claims is also still on hold because the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, 2014, was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court.

“The Constitutional Court found that the public consultation process facilitated by the National Council of Provinces and some Provincial Legislatures, did not meet the standard set in the Constitution,” said President Zuma.

The Constitutional Court found that the public consultation process facilitated by the National Council of Provinces and some Provincial Legislatures, did not meet the standard set in the Constitution.

“Going forward, government will continue to implement other programmes such as the Strengthening of Relatives Rights programme, also known as the 50-50 programme. In this programme, the farm workers join together into a legal entity and together with the farm owner a new company is established and the workers and the owner become joint owners.

“To date 13 proposals have already been approved benefiting 921 farm dweller households at a value of R631 million. We applaud farmers and farm workers for this innovation,” he said.

He appeal to land claimants to accept land instead of financial compensation.

“Over 90% of claims are currently settled through financial compensation which does not help the process at all. It perpetuates dispossession. It also undermines economic empowerment.”

Government is committed to support black smallholder farmers. “Indeed, government will implement a commercialisation support programme for 450 black smallholder farmers,” said the President.

He encouraged more women to consider farming. - SAnews.gov.za