CEO: Land Ownership Reform Long Overdue in South Africa

CEO: Land Ownership Reform Long Overdue in South Africa

Land reform in South Africa needs to be addressed, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of food security or by destroying existing businesses, says Neil Gopal, CEO of the South African Property Owners Association, according to a report in SACommercialPropNews.

Association members represent 90 percent of commercial property ownership in South Africa, the report says.

Land ownership is a sensitive issue in South Africa, brought into focus by the decline in agriculture in neighboring Zimbabwe.

The Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Bill of 2008 gave Zimbabweans the right to take over and control many foreign-owned companies in Zimbabwe. It allowed more than 50 percent of all businesses to be transferred into local black African hands. The bill defined an indigenous Zimbabwean as “any person who, before the 18th of April 1980, was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendant of such person,” according to a 2007 report in TheEconomist.

“The fact that only 13 percent of land in South Africa is owned by black people must be addressed,” Gopal said. “We need robust and balanced debate around land reform. Only visionary policies and laws will effectively address the societal, economic and political effects of the 1913 Natives Land Act.”

South Africa’s Department of Rural Development and Land Reform partnered with the Gauteng Provincial Government to host the 1913 Natives’ Land Act Exhibit earlier this month near Soweto.

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The exhibit was aimed at creating awareness, especially among the youth, of the journey traveled thus far and progress made by the government towards reversing the negative legacy of the 1913 Natives’ Land Act and related racially motivated laws.

But changing land ownership rights in South Africa also impacts the need to ensure food security.

Just 12 percent of South Africa can be used for crop production and high-potential arable land comprises just 22 percent of this. Breaking up commercially efficient enterprises for land reform poses a danger to food security, the South African Property Owners Association said.

Land reform bills shouldn’t be “rushed through,” but must be thoroughly debated first, to ensure legal, social, economic and political validity, the association said. With measured debate, laws and policies could act as a cohesive, effective foundation to ensure a sustainable land reform process. These include the expropriation of property, Restitution of Land Rights Amendment, Property Valuations Bills and Preservation and Preservation of Agricultural Land Policy, among others.

“We have to deal with practical realities,” Gopal said. “Those realities are that land ownership cannot continue to be left unaddressed. However, the redress of land ownership should be balanced against other rights. Working together, government, business and society need to ensure that South Africa has a sustainable post-reform land tenure system – a system that will ultimately lead to alleviation of poverty and to protection of food security.”