President Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS/KOPANO TLAPE
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS/KOPANO TLAPE

President Jacob Zuma says addressing the land reform issue does not mean the government is racist, but is indicative of its desire to work for a "peaceful future".

Responding to the debate on his state of the nation address (Sona) on Thursday, Zuma spoke at length about land reform and warned that the issue could explode if the government did not address it urgently.

"We will do all we can [to address the land reform issue] … we will not act like other parts of the world … it will be done within the parameters of the law," Zuma said.

The government has been hard-pressed to complete the land reform programme, amid concerns by some farmer organisations and opposition parties that it could resort to "Zimbabwe-style land grabs". In 2016, Parliament passed the Expropriation Bill, paving the way for the government to pay for land at a value determined by the valuer-general.

The bill allows property, both fixed and movable, to be expropriated for a public interest as well as a public purpose, raising fears that large-scale expropriation could be used to accelerate the land-reform process.

"I do not think it helps to jump into phrases that if somebody talks about land then it’s hating the whites," said Zuma.

Garlic farmer Molly Nikelo. Picture: REUTERS
Garlic farmer Molly Nikelo. Picture: REUTERS

"We are not even talking about the history. Many of the people did not buy the land and we do not talk about that … If we were driven by hatred we would be saying this is what happened. There is no hatred. Some of us come from organisations where we have been taught not to be racist … but we all need space to live together … to be able to feel that we are all citizens," the President said.

Earlier this week, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said in Parliament that a single law should be developed to deal with land restitution without compensation.

Nkwinti said the government needed to undertake a pre-colonial audit of land ownership, use and occupation.

"Once the audit has been completed, a single law should be developed to address the issue of land restitution without compensation. The necessary constitutional amendments should be undertaken to affect this process," said Nkwinti.

On Thursday, Zuma said one of the reasons the land reform project had been tardy was that the government had chosen to use the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle, which in many cases resulted in the state having to pay large sums of money to acquire land.

"The introduction of the office of the valuer-general is assisting us to ensure that we do not pay excessive land prices. The land expropriation amendment act, when finalised, will also assist in fast-tracking land reform. This government has the interest of the people at heart, and will do all in its power to ensure that land is returned to the people," Zuma said.

John Purchase, the CEO of the Agricultural Chamber of Commerce, said it was clear that the government wanted to push for restitution without compensation, which is "unacceptable and irresponsible".

"Such a government programme would be totally outside of the spirit and letter of the current and negotiated Constitution of SA. If implemented, it will not only be a disaster for commercial farming and farmers, but it will also have catastrophic consequences for the whole South African economy, as well as for food security," said Purchase.

He added: "In terms of a pre-colonial audit, our understanding is that the minister is referring to an audit of landownership prior to 1652, the year that people of Caucasian descent established a refreshment post in the vicinity of what is Cape Town today. We believe his motive to be pretty clear and the objective is Zimbabwe-style land grabs of white-owned land through a so-called legal process."

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