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Put controversial land bill on hold, urges union

May 18 2017 11:28

Cape Town – Trade union Solidarity on Thursday urged government to put the controversial Agricultural Land Holdings Bill on hold until a more rigorous and transparent analysis has been conducted and subjected to public scrutiny.

Gerhard van Onselen, an economics researcher at Solidarity, said the union recommends that the bill be put on hold until a more rigorous and transparent socioeconomic cost-benefit analysis has been conducted and subjected to public scrutiny. 

“What complicates the matter further is that the exact economic impact is difficult to determine when the exact nature of the ceilings is uncertain,” Van Onselen said. 
  
“It is important to consider agriculture’s direct and indirect impact on the economy. Commercial agriculture remains a significant employer and plays an important role in exports, and consequently in South Africa’s trade balance. 

"The agricultural sector is closely linked to other industries that make use of agricultural inputs. A weakened agricultural sector could have adverse knock-on effects on other sectors of the economy,” Van Onselen said. 

READ: SA's agriculture, food security threatened by downgrade

“In reality, a small number of the total number of farmers in South Africa produce above subsistence levels, feeding the rest of South Africans and contributing to exports. Measures that would serve as encumbrances to a well-functioning market in agriculture and that may impede agricultural investment and production are ill-advised."

Solidarity is specifically concerned about the bill’s impact on aggregate agricultural output, the impact on agricultural investment, the extra cost of added red tape, and the possible impact on land values and the broader financial sector.     

“Solidarity has retained the right to test the constitutionality of the bill at a later stage should the need arise,” Van Onselen said.

The bill was gazetted earlier this year and submitted for public comment, which closed on April 13. 

The draft legislation makes provision for specified land ceilings with regard to land ownership. Land belonging to owners who are above the ceiling could be made available for redistribution – with or without expropriation. 

In addition, the bill allows for the establishment of a land commission, which will play a key role in the determination of such land ceilings, as well as the long-term lease of agricultural land by foreigners.

READ: New bill will set out unique land ceilings 

Fin24 earlier reported that although land owned by foreign nationals will not be expropriated, they will not be able to acquire agricultural land after the bill has been signed into law. 

Van Onselen said the bill is controversial in that it seeks to expand government’s control over agriculture. 

Besides a land commission, the draft legislation will also allow for a register of agricultural land ownership, which includes a requirement for the disclosure of race, gender and nationality, a prohibition on the acquisition of agricultural land holdings by foreign persons, categories of ceilings that limit agricultural land ownership, and to designate portions of land exceeding the determined ceilings as redistribution agricultural land, Van Onselen said. 

READ: Land should be given to capable farmers, says govt

Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti will be the final delegated authority in the determination of land ceilings, which adds to uncertainty. 

Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter:

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