(Port Elizabeth) – EASTERN Cape farmers’ organisation Agri EC has urged members not to panic over the chances of a Zimbabwe-styled land-grab happening to them, saying South Africa’s Constitution is strong enough to withstand the proposed policy changes.
With more than 4,000 farms already in the government’s hands and awaiting redistribution to new owners, numerous scenarios need to be played out before the recently proposed Expropriation Without Compensation (EWC) policy has any impact on the country – if, indeed, it ever comes into effect.
This is according to Agri EC president Doug Stern, who pointed out that the major stumbling block to EWC is the Constitution, which protects the rights of all landowners in the country.
“Land grabs are not a fait accompli, no matter what anyone says to the contrary,” said Stern.
“The Constitution cannot be amended on a political whim. It is a lengthy and arduous process, which would take years to achieve,” he said, adding that vote garnering ahead of next year’s general elections had much to do with the issue being brought to the fore.
“We have an election looming. It has to be borne in mind that the issue, while certainly contentious, is actually the perfect political platform from which to garner votes.
“For example, before the previous general elections the matter of farmers having to give 50% of their farms to their employees was on the table, but nothing came of that – other than getting farmers into a flat spin.
“The whole EWC, in my opinion is yet another attempt at vote capturing before next year’s elections. I am predicting that this attempt at amending section 25 of the Constitution will not succeed.”
Stern also pointed out that, at this stage, all that is in place is a policy document which still requires public input.
Furthermore, the International Human Rights Commission will be watching developments closely, especially in view of the fact that governments cannot simply take away the right to own land.
“It is very easy for farmers to adopt a take-up-arms mindset, but this has to change as does the negativity surrounding land expropriation.
“Even in the unlikely event that it did become reality, have the politicians given any thought to what would happen to the land once expropriated? To whom would it be given? Who would be responsible for the debt owed on any given piece of land or farm?
“As it is, the state is sitting with around 4,000 farms in its possession which are unproductive – the question is why more farms are needed. This unproductive land could certainly be put to use.”
Stern also said that the economic impact of “taking” land would be catastrophic, as has been pointed out by numerous economists. “Food and employment security would be dealt a bitter blow and, as a consequence, the poor would be worst affected by the outcome of such an irresponsible act,” he said.
Something else that Stern said had to be taken into consideration was the fact that there were enough examples of very successful black commercial farmers who attained land through the free market system.
“With the assistance of organised agriculture and the private sector, the government needs to be convinced that there are models that will work to successfully advance the State’s land reform programme,” he said.
“I want to appeal to fellow farmers not to panic and do anything irresponsible. To date, there is nothing on the table for anyone to be concerned about.
“Please look at all the positives surrounding you, such as comparatively low interest rates, and leave this one possible negative matter for elected representatives to deal with on your behalf.
“Farmers must carry on doing what they do best – that is to produce food for our country, while enjoying your farming. We must not take this bait.”