THE South African government has begun the process of seizing land from white farmers.
Local newspaper City Press reports two game farms in the northern province of Limpopo are the first to be targeted for unilateral seizure after negotiations with the owners to purchase the properties stalled.
While the government says it intends to pay, owners Akkerland Boerdery wanted 200 million rand ($18.7 million) for the land — they’re being offered just 20 million rand ($1.87 million).
“Notice is hereby given that a terrain inspection will be held on the farms on April 5, 2018 at 10am in order to conduct an audit of the assets and a handover of the farm’s keys to the state,” a letter sent to the owners earlier this year said.
Akkerland Boerdery obtained an urgent injunction to prevent eviction until a court had ruled on the issue, but the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs is opposing the application.
“What makes the Akkerland case unique is that they apparently were not given the opportunity to first dispute the claim in court, as the law requires,” AgriSA union spokeswoman Annelize Crosby told the paper.
It comes as the South African government pushes ahead with plans to amend the country’s constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.
The seizures are intended to test the ability of the government to take land under existing laws, which the ruling African National Congress has previously stated is allowable if “in the public interest”.
Earlier this month, City Press reported the government had drawn up a list of 139 farms it planned to seize “to test out” section 25 of the constitution.
The newspaper said employees at the department had been ordered to press ahead with the process at the Land Claims Court.
If the seizures go ahead, it would be the first time the state refuses to pay market value for land. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a “willing seller, willing buyer” process to redistribute white-owned farms to blacks.
A 2017 government audit found white people owned 72 per cent of private farmland in South Africa. According to the 2011 census, there are about 4.6 million white people in South Africa, accounting for 8.9 per cent of the population.
African National Congress spokesman Zizi Kodwa would not reveal details of the farms targeted and attempted to play down investor fears, saying the proposed seizures were “tied to addressing the injustices of the past”.
“Over time I think the markets as well as investors will appreciate that what we are doing is creating policy certainty and creating the conditions for future investment,” he told City Press.
Afriforum, a civil-rights group representing the white Afrikaner minority, subsequently released what it claimed to be a leaked list of 190 farms “being circulated in the department”, inviting farmers to check if they were on it and asking them to get in touch “so that we can prepare for a joint legal strategy”.
The government hit back, with department spokeswoman Linda Page telling News24the list was a fake. “We don’t know where they got it from,” she said. “There is no truth to this document.”
News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson slammed Afriforum for “disgusting fearmongering in the highest degree”. “Will Afriforum take action against (deputy CEO) Ernst Roets for distributing fake news?” he tweeted. “Will they apologise? We need cool heads — not arsonists — in this debate.”
On Sunday, Mr Roets tweeted that the two farms — Salaita and Lukin — were the first two names on Afriforum’s list.
“So the debate about the authenticity of the list is settled then?” he said. “We hope that the gravity of the state’s plans for expropriation is understood and that people will see through the dishonesty of the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development.
“We hope that the attempts to discredit the legitimacy of the list has now been proven to be malicious for good. We shouldn’t be misled by those who sing Kumbaya while the state is planning to expropriate property.”
AgriSA had described Afriforum’s release of the list as “irresponsible” and “inflammatory”, saying “cursory background research showed” several inaccuracies, including that a number of the farms were joint ventures co-owned by black people.
Earlier this month, cattle farmer Jo-an Engelbrecht told the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent his farm just outside Johannesburg was now “worth zero”.
“We had several auctions in the last two or three weeks cancelled because there was no people interested in buying the land,” he said. “Why would you buy a farm to know the government’s going to take it?”