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Foreigners with farms over 12 000ha must sell

Feb 24 2015 12:59
Donwald Pressly

Cape Town - Foreigners with land holdings above the proposed cap of 12 000 hectares will - once the land holdings bill is signed into law - need to sell any excess agricultural holdings, said Minister of Rural Development and Land Affairs Gugile Nkwinti on Tuesday.

READ: State to move fast on land bill - minister

Nkwinti, responding to a question at a briefing of economic cluster ministers to journalists at parliament about whether foreigners who own 60 000ha would be forced to sell excess holdings, said the law would apply equally to both South Africans "and non-South Africans".

Asked whether foreigners would be required to sell their land which they already hold and convert to leasehold - foreigners will be able to hold land for 30 years - he was unsure, indicating that government would not do "anything foolish". This appeared to mean that existing agricultural land holders who are foreigners can hold on to their agricultural land.

The minister said that foreigners owned about 5% of agricultural land at last count in 2006, which implied that this percentage may now be higher.

Pressed again on the negative signals sent about prohibiting agricultural land holdings - outside leasehold - by foreigners, he said: "Let me come to the serious matter of foreign land ownership. Bear in mind... we are talking about productive land. We are not talking about residential property. Our mandate is on productive agricultural land, we are talking about that."

Pressed on the matter of the land holdings bill becoming retrospective - prohibiting foreigners owning land - he said: "The regulation of land holdings bill will still go through parliament. Once the law is passed and signed into law, the provisions of that law will kick off ... will be applicable."

He left the issue of foreign agricultural land owners already in possession of land hanging. "The question of retrospectivity is a moot question... in terms of jurisprudence... we are prepared to engage with the constitutional court on the constitutionality (of the bill). We won't do anything foolish, everything will be done in terms of the law."

Asked if the land caps of two farms or 12 000ha would be revisited and possibly changed or dismissed before the bill becomes law, he said: "Remember we have been engaging for a year now (with agricultural bodies)... since the end of March (2014)."

What has happened recently is that President Jacob Zuma pronounced on the land matter - the prohibition of foreign ownership of agricultural land and the 12 000 land cap - in his State of the Nation speech.

READ: Sona wrap: Zuma drops bomb on land ownership

The reason that that the 12 000ha cap had been raised was because of interactions with the commercial farming sector. This took into account the interests of commercial farming and "takes into account a lot of economic variables". Conditions for farming certain commodities and environmental conditions dictate where large farms are for production and to meet economies of scale, he explained.

Asked whether he would be forced to sell one of his three farms - because it appeared that a two-farm cap applies - he said this matter did not arise as he was "a social farmer". The land mass did not add up to 12 000ha for his three farms by far, he said in isiXhosa.

This appeared to indicate that the two-farm rule either looks set to be done away with, or that it would apply only if the two farms together make up 12 000 hectares. Officials from his department could not provide clarity on the matter after the briefing on Tuesday.

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land reforms  |  farms  |  land
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