As reported in last week’s newsletter, Agbiz was invited to participate in a seminar on land reform hosted by Werksmans firm of attorneys at their office in Sandton. The session was facilitated by Werksmans’ Director Bulelwa Mabasa whilst presentations were made by Thami Mdontswa, a Chief Director from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, Anele Khumalo from Werksmans and the author of this article. Judging by the nature of the debates, the seminar comes at an opportune time to stimulate debate on key issues as we head up to the ANC’s elective conference in December where a way forward with land reform generally, and the debate on compensation with or without compensation in particular, are expected to be decided.

The three topics that seemed to make the biggest impression and therefore influenced the the debate centered around the transfer of title deeds to land reform beneficiaries, the debate about the costs associated in acquiring land in the context of an inadequate and shrinking budget, and finally the idea of providing strategic direction to land reform as a whole so that its diverse programs work towards a common goal.

Whilst supporting the recent move to award title deeds to communal occupiers via the draft Communal Land Tenure Bill currently open for public comments, the Agbiz presentation advocated for the need to transfer title deeds to all land redistribution beneficiaries as a means to facilitate access to finance, and therefore mainstreaming these new entrants to the agricultural sector into the mainstream economy. This was supported by comments from the floor and clarification was provided by the panel regarding the state’s policy of transferring title to restitution beneficiaries, but withholding title for a specified period according to the state land lease and disposal policy. My impression is that is a growing issue amongst farmers who received land via the land reform process, and will likely become an increasingly important aspect of the debate.

Costs will always be central to the land reform debate and this seminar was no exception. Through the presentations, a clear pattern became evident that land acquisition received progressively less funding from 2009 onwards as the Department’s mandate was expanded to include rural development, which in turn diluted the focus on land reform. The flipside of this development is resulting in increased pressure to reduce the costs of land acquisition by pushing down the prices for land acquired. The debate included an exposition of the draft Property Valuation Regulations and culminated in the debate around expropriation without compensation. Following the ANC policy conference in June/July, there is a 6-month window period until the party meets again in December to thoroughly investigate the pros and cons of expropriation with or without compensation. This crucial aspect has the potential to overshadow everything else happening in the land reform space, and as such, there is no better time than the present to move this debate onto public forums so that all relevant viewpoints on the topic can be considered.

In view of the above, there is certainly a need to take stock of where South Africa is going with the land reform project as a whole. There are numerous policies, Bills and other draft legal instruments currently under consideration that seem so diverse in their objectives that it is difficult to answer the simple question of; where to from here? There is therefore clearly a need to redefine the strategic direction that land reform should take and there is no better time than the coming months before December to so.

The presentation made by Agbiz at the seminar is linked here.




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