Image: 123RF/ Valentin Valkov
Image: 123RF/ Valentin Valkov

South African ruling-party officials committed to protect productive agricultural land and property rights in a meeting with a commercial farmers’ lobby group about the government’s plan to allow expropriation without compensation.

Agri SA and the Agricultural Business Chamber met with Deputy President David Mabuza and African National Congress Treasurer-General Paul Mashatile in Johannesburg Tuesday about agrarian reform and farm property. The ANC officials pledged not to allow land grabs and that production will start on 4,000 farms currently in the government’s possession to unlock their commercial value, Agri SA said in an emailed statement.

The meeting “sets a foundation for a lasting partnership with the aim to sustainably transform and grow agriculture,” said Omri van Zyl, Agri SA’s executive director. “Our focus will remain on negotiating for tangible benefits for producers.”

Dan Kriek, Agri SA’s president, met separately with President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Tuesday to discuss how the agricultural industry can help boost growth and create jobs.

Sustainable Process

“Solving the land question is fundamental to any economic growth plan,” and a failure to put a sustainable, well-structured legal process for land reform in place would undermine stability, Kriek said by phone.

A committee of lawmakers started a process to change the constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation in February after the ANC decided in December to adopt the measure to speed up giving black people more land. Public hearings about the proposal started in June and will conclude this month.

The committee had received about 450,000 written submissions and a third of those had been analyzed, Vincent Smith, an ANC lawmaker, said at a hearing in Cape Town on Wednesday. Fifty-nine percent of those respondents favored leaving the constitution unchanged, while 40 percent wanted it to be amended, he said.

White farmers own almost three-quarters of South Africa’s agricultural land, according to an audit by Agri SA published last year. Access to land is one of the symbols of inequality in the nation of about 56 million where wealth and poverty are largely divided along racial lines.

The Land and Agricultural Development Bank warned this week expropriating farm land without compensation could cost the government 41 billion rand ($2.9 billion) if it’s forced to repay the state company’s debt immediately.

- Bloomberg