In Legal Updates

Pretoria – The Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, which restricts foreign ownership of land, will be presented to Cabinet for approval in the first semester of the year.

This emerged during Thursday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), an annual address were the President addresses the nation and provides an assessment of the country’s domestic and foreign situation.

The Bill, which was first announced by President Zuma in his 2015 SONA, places a ceiling on land ownership at a maximum of 12000 hectares and would prohibit foreign nationals from owning land.

However, they would be eligible for long term leases.

This practice of limiting land ownership by foreign nationals and juristic persons, government has maintained, is an established practice internationally, in counties like Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Kenya, Ghana and certain South American countries.

The proposed policy states that foreign nationals and juristic persons are understood as non-citizens as well as juristic persons whose dominant shareholder or controller is a foreign controlled enterprise, entity or interest, hence not all immigrants to South Africa will be excluded from land ownership.

This category of foreign nationals that are non-citizens will not be able to own land in freehold from the time of the policy is passed into law. They will be allowed long term lease of 30 to 50 years.

According to the policy, it is recognised that this cannot apply retrospectively without constitutional infringements.

As such those who have already acquired freehold would not have their tenure changed by the passing of the proposed law.

But in such instances the Right of First Refusal will apply in favour of another South African citizen in freehold or the State if the land is deemed strategic.

The policy seeks to address problems such as the need to secure the limited land for food security and address the land injustice of more than 300 years of colonialism and apartheid.

Meanwhile, government continues to push ahead with steadfast commitment toward the complete transformation of the land reform in the country.

As part of efforts toward healing the psychological wounds of forced removal and dispossession of land, the government re-opened the land claims process from July 2015 until 2019.

The response thus far has been overwhelming, President Zuma said, as over 120 000 claims have been lodged with the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights as of December 2015.

“Land reform remains an important factor as we pursue transformation,” President Zuma told the joint sitting.

With the reopening of land claims, government hopes it will help address some of the challenges identified by the National Development Plan (NDP).

The NDP notes that land reform has not yet translated into the establishment of sufficient numbers of sustainable new black farmers and restitution, in particular, has been quite slow.

In addition, there has been an under-utilisation of productive and communal land and this might threaten food security, especially at household level.

In the coming year, President Zuma said government will also push ahead with the pilot of the policy which proposes relative rights for people who live and work on farms.

Known as the “Strengthening The Relative Rights Of People Working The Land” or the 50/50 Policy Framework, the policy was announced last year.

Government is currently exploring this project and it has so far received a total of 27 proposals from commercial farmers, said President Zuma.

Of these four are being implemented in the Eastern Cape and the Free State.

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