SA may revisit land and agrarian policy due to climate change

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza. Picture: Jacques Nellis

The presidential panel on land reform had made recommendations of which the Cabinet endorsed and supported 60, rejected nine and noted three.

The challenges of climate change “may merit the development of a new agrarian reform vision” for South Africa, Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza said on Thursday.

She was elaborating on why the Cabinet had rejected some of the presidential panel on land reform’s recommendations.

On Tuesday, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu briefed the media on the outcome of Friday’s Cabinet meeting, saying the panel had made recommendations of which the Cabinet endorsed and supported 60, rejected nine and noted three.

On Thursday, Didiza revealed which recommendations were rejected and offered reasons why.

The following recommendations were not supported by the Cabinet:

  • Land reform must be informed by an agreed vision for agrarian reform

“The view of the government is that the current White Paper on Land Policy of 1997 is still adequate in its application,” said Didiza.

“It covers a broad land administration framework as well as defining approaches for land reform to address unequal land ownership patterns in our country. It also creates the framework for tenure reform policy. The White Paper also appreciates that land reform not only covers agrarian reform but addresses a variety of land needs.

“It, therefore, cannot be true that land reform must be informed by an agreed vision for agrarian reform. On the contrary, there should be an agricultural vision that supports agrarian reform, which incidentally had been developed in the 2000s which was widely consulted in the development of the strategic plan for South African agriculture which reads: ‘A united, prosperous agricultural sector for South Africa’.”

She said this vision acknowledged the scale and size of the operation that needed to be supported by various land use patterns.

“This element is covered in the current proposals and therefore a review, given the challenges of climate change, may merit the development of a new agrarian reform vision,” Didiza added.

  • Unlocking urban state land for affordable housing and the creation of more inclusive towns and cities

“The recommendation is broadly supported; however, the challenge is with respect to certain mechanisms that are being proposed as interventions.”Review of the Office of the Valuer-General (OVG) and its function in line with the Property Valuations Act to ensure that the compensation determined in the event of expropriation for land reform purposes is just and equitable, and not purely market value-based, this must be aligned with the compensation being proposed by the panel

“The view of the government is that what the panel recommends is what the status quo currently is. The OVG as well as its functions are in line with the Property Valuations Act,” Didiza explained.

She said, currently, the determination of what was just and equitable was the matter of debate in the parliamentary process on the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution.

  • The government must develop a unified land administration system for the country with a proposal to develop a new Green and White Paper that will include a land administration chapter

“The view of the government is that the current White Paper does include land administration, however, what may need to be expedited is a unified and administrative system and where possible the amendment of the Deeds Registry Act to include the recording of informal land rights in the former homelands and communal areas.”

Didiza said the proposed new Green and White Paper on Land might take longer to address some of the immediate challenges and therefore was a long-term programme.

  • Transfer responsibility for rural development from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and locate its co-ordination within the Presidency

“This recommendation is moot as the decision was already taken in the configuration of the government in the sixth administration,” Didiza said.

  • Establish or delegate central authority with clear powers and responsibilities to proactively manage state land and ensure that such an authority meet its broad obligations and balance the interest of potentially competing departments.

“The view of the government is that the inter-ministerial committee on land and agriculture, chaired by the deputy president, addresses what the panel was recommending. At present, [the South African Local Government Association] is a participant in the [inter-ministerial committee] which ensures that municipal interests are taken into consideration. This process of the IMC ensures co-ordination and managing of competing needs without removing legislative competence.”

  • Establish a national land rights protector for managing higher-level conflict, especially between the state and citizens

“The view of the government is that what this proposed recommendation seeks to address may be covered in the expanded mandate of the Land Courts Bill that the panel itself has recommended,” Didiza said.

  • The government should create a land reform fund

“The view of the government is that, currently, there may not be merit in setting up of such a fund. The optimum and judicious use of current budget allocation can still address the resource required for land reform.”

  • Establish a Land and Agrarian Reform Agency

“The view of government is that the new configuration of the department, which now combines the Department of Agriculture and Land Reform, will address the concerns that necessitated the panel to make this recommendation.”

“The view of the government is that there was a tax enquiry that was undertaken by the finance department that included issues of land tax which have been incorporated in the property rates legislation as well as capital gains tax,” Didiza said.

The panel was appointed in September 2018 to advise the government on circumstances in which the policy on expropriation without compensation will be implemented, what procedures to follow and institutions to enforce, as well as the rights of any affected persons, including the rights to judicial review.

The panel made a range of recommendations, including under which circumstances land could be expropriated without compensation.

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