Renewed focus on improving farm workers’ rights

MAY 9, 2015

Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti says his department will in the 2015/16 year focus on providing support that will improve the rights of farm workers.

The Minister tabled his department’s budget vote in Parliament on Friday, where he outlined the workings of the Regulation of Landholdings Bill that was announced by President Jacob Zuma during the State of the Nation Address.

“As announced by President Zuma during his State of the Nation Address, government will conduct 50 pilots on the policy to strengthen the relative rights of people working the land - popularly known as the 50/50 policy framework – by 2019.

 “The Regulation of Landholdings Bill, which will introduce land ceilings and prohibit land ownership by foreign nationals, will be submitted to Parliament this year.

“Policies to [this bill] have been the subject of the intense consultations…” he said.

Minister Nkwinti said some farmers have come forward volunteering to participate in the 50/50 policy framework.

“Proposals assume various forms within this overall framework of strengthening the rights of people working the land. We are going to prioritise the provision of strategic support to these farms, starting this financial year,” he said.

The Minister said, however, that there has been outright rejection from the greater part of the sector to proposed land ceilings and the prohibition of land ownership by foreign nationals.

“The basis of the rejection is that it will drive away foreign investment not only in the agricultural sector but in the economy as a whole… Our conviction (as government) is that any investor, whether foreign or national, wants policy certainty. Once they understand what the policy is, they adapt accordingly,” he said.

He said government has looked at South Africa's history of land ownership patterns since the 1913 Natives' Land Act as well as experience elsewhere in the world, particularly Europe and a few countries in Latin America.

The South African experience, he said, shows that the aggregate farmland over this period has generally remained stable, being disturbed by fluctuations in the number of people entering or leaving farming.  This in turn influenced the fall of the average farm size from 950 hectares (ha) and 750ha (between 1918 and 1950) and, between 750ha to over 2 000ha currently.

In Europe, the general average farm size is 14ha, while in Latin America it ranges between 72ha (Brazil) and 84ha (Chile).

“Closer to home, the general trend is that of prohibition, unless foreign nationals joined up with South African nationals - provided the latter is the majority shareholder in such joint venture,” he said.

Limiting foreign land ownership

The policy proposes that the ceiling (for both natural and juristic persons) for small scale farms should be 1 000ha; medium scale farms should be 2 500ha and large scale farms should be 5 000ha.

Minister Nkwinti said any excess land portions between each of these categories and above the 12 000ha maximum shall be expropriated and redistributed. Compensation will be on the basis of the ‘just and equitable’ principle.

“We’ve come up with a special category to address the 12 000ha maximum announced by the President during 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.

“Secondly, we have come to the conclusion that this option would fit well in circumstances where sugar, grapes, vegetables, fruit and horticulture are concerned,” he said. 

However, he said off-farm equity holdings would be more appropriate and government has set the rate of turnover at R5 million per annum, provided that the share equity for workers is not less than 25%.

“We are of the strong view that these policy proposals would go a long way towards addressing the strategic thrust of land reform; that all land reform farms, including communal land, are 100% productive and achieving the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP) as rapidly as is possible,” the Minister said. - SAnews.gov.za

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