South Africa orders first farm seizure

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The country's Commission on Restitution of Land Rights said it had tried to negotiate with Hannes Visser for his farm for the past 30 months, and had no option now but to issue an expropriation notice.

The commission has offered Mr Visser 1.75m rand (£153,000) for his 500-hectare cattle and crop farm in the north-western Lichtenburg district. But Mr Visser says the land is worth twice as much, because he has invested more than 3m rand on the farm.

Blessing Mphela, the claims commissioner, said that because of the vast disparity of the two amounts, he had recommended that the Minister of Land Affairs, Thoko Didiza, expropriate the land "as a last resort".

He added: "The minister has approved the commencement of the expropriation and a notice of intention to expropriate will be served on Visser. The notice will run for 30 days."

The descendants of a black farmer, Abram Molamu, had lodged a claim for Leeuwspruit farm, claiming it was taken from them during the period of white rule. Mr Visser, whose family has owned the farm since 1970, says the black owners who sold it were paid above full market value. He asked the commission to subdivide the land so he could retain his home and continue the meat processing business on the farm, but that was rejected. He said he would fight any attempt to seize his land in court. "What is happening here is a self-enrichment scheme that needs to be challenged," he said. "No one should expect me to just fold my hands when something I struggled for is being taken away in this manner. I do not recognise the restitution claim on my land and can't be forced to sell at the government's price."

The farmers' union AgriSA said the government was trying to make an example of Mr Visser, but other options had not yet been exhausted.

When the ANC was elected in 1994, 87 per cent of all agricultural land was owned by whites. The government started an ambitious land-reform programme aimed at restoring agricultural land to blacks forced off their farms during the apartheid era, and to provide the poorest in society with access to land. The aim is to hand over one third of white-owned farmland by 2014, but only 4 per cent has been redistributed. President Thabo Mbeki tried to reassure the international community that all land redistribution will be done on a "willing seller, willing buyer" approach, where white farmers are offered market prices.

But in July, the new Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said the system was too slow, and some farmers were asking too much and dragging out negotiations. She hinted that the government could be coercive. White farmers have warned that attempts to seize land will send negative messages about the country's respect for property rights, and will scare away foreign investors.