Subdivision of Agricultural Land Repeal Act [B101-97]: introduction by Department of Agriculture

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Meeting report

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE, WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY

11 February 1998

SUBDIVISION OF AGRICULTURAL LAND REPEAL ACT [B101-97]: INTRODUCTION BY DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

The Chairperson, Ms Love, stated that a number of submissions had been received in writing in response to the advert sent by the committee to newspapers. However, only one organisation so far had been willing to do an oral presentation. The Chairperson then handed over to the Department of Agriculture for their presentation to the committee.

Mr Botha (Deputy Director-General of the Department of Agriculture) began by giving some objectives for the repeal of the Act. He explained that the Department was trying to do away with the previous norms as to the subdivision of and rezoning of agricultural land. Whereas the government previously determined the viability of a proposition, market forces would do that now. He went on to say that the Act needed to be repealed so as to protect scarce prime agricultural land.

Mr Munnick (from the ARC Institute) gave the committee a definition of soil. It was the top layers of earth's surface where plants grew, whereas land was the combination of soil, climate, vegetation and topography, together with human determinations. He then explained that prime agricultural land was a function of good soil, level to gently sloping land, advantageous climate and agreeable location, suited for many kinds of crops. Prime agricultural land could not compete on the open market, especially in peri-urban areas. It should, however, be protected in order to sustain the country's natural resources (Agenda 21) and to maintain the ability to produce food in times of food shortage. He pointed out, by using a map, that the high prime agricultural land areas in South Africa were primarily in the Eastern part of the country (Mpumalanga, Northern part of Kwazulu Natal) as that part had a good climate.

Dr Schoeman (NP) wanted to know why the old Homelands had black spots on them. Mr Botha answered that insufficient information was available as very few field surveys studies were undertaken in those areas. Dr Schoeman, then, wanted to know if the Department could provide the committee members with the information. The answer given was that research was currently being undertaken, but there was insufficient funds being allocated to the Department to have a complete survey.

Mrs Seperepere (ANC) inquired whether the Northern Cape did not have good land seeing that it had the largest irrigation programme in Africa. According to Mr Munnick, the Northern Cape had prime soil but not prime land.

Mr Mnguni (NP) followed-up Dr Schoeman's question by querying what had happened to the surveys done in earlier years in the Homelands. Mr Botha could not give a definite answer as to what had happened to the documents. As the Homelands were previously not regarded as belonging to South Africa, the Department of Agriculture did not hold the information. Mr Mnguni wanted to know from the Department whether modern technology, such as satellites, was used. He was informed by Mr Munnick that modern technology was used for most of their work, but satellites could not be used to determine how deep soil was. Hence, more conventional methods were used to determine that.

Mr Munnick went on with his presentation by informing the committee that the size of South Africa was 122 million hectares. Out of that, 60 million hectares consisted of arable land and the potential of high prime agricultural land consisted of only five to six million hectares. This was small in comparison to the country's total size. Some inherent risks for prime agricultural land included degradation, whereas external risks consisted of:

1) Subdivision, which would be controlled by market forces.

2) Change in the use of the land, for development purposes, for example.

The danger was that once land was used for other purposes, it could not be reverted to its original agricultural use. Hence legislation was needed to control that from occurring. As was stated earlier, high potential land in South Africa was situated in Mpumalanga, where 31% of all high potential land was. It was important, therefore, to protect prime agricultural land and guidelines were necessary to control development. The ARC would be able to identify areas where prime agricultural land occurred and developers had to be responsible to delineate prime agricultural land.

The Chairperson wanted to have a brief review as to how the Land Act was addressed in the past and why the Department recommended that the Act be repealed. Ms Van Zyl (Senior Legal Advisor) said that previously, a proportion of the size of agricultural land was determined by the viability of the farmer. Today, however, market forces determined the size of agricultural land. The existing Act allowed the Minister to control the use of agricultural land, according to Ms Van Zyl. However, the guidelines as to how to exercise that control was not stated in the Act. In the past, the set guideline was the ability of the farmer to generate an income of R30 000.00 per annum. If the farmer was unable to do so, the government would not allow the farmer to subdivide the land into pieces. The guidelines had, over the years, become outdated. Ms Van Zyl went on to say that today, the government could no longer inform a person how much income one should derive and instead market forces did this. Previously one could use the agricultural land for other purposes, for example to build houses, by applying to the provincial legislature, which would then ask for a recommendation from the Department of Agricultural and Land Affairs. The main reason for repealing the Act, according to Ms Van Zyl, was because it was so outdated.

The Chairperson wanted to know from Mr Munnick how much prime agricultural land was being used for non-agricultural purposes. Mr Munnick replied that as there were no surveys available for the entire country, it was difficult to give an exact amount. He said that it was definitely several hundred thousands of hectares. Ms Stolz, senior administration officer, informed the committee that rezoning alone consisted of more than 170 000 hectares and that excluded subdivisions, as that information was unavailable as it was in the hands of the provincial legislatures. Presently the Department had no authority to refuse subdivision, but could only give advice, according to Ms Stolz.

Various questions were posed to the Department. Dr Schoeman wanted to know why the Act was being repealed when no new legislation was forthcoming and the Act was still achieving some important goals. Ms Van Zyl said that she was unable to comment on the effectiveness of the repeal of the Act, but the Department was currently drafting a Resource Conservation Act. This was a new Act which would replace that aspect of the repealed legislation dealing with subdivision.

Mrs Ngwenya (ANC) wanted to know about the land that had no formal owners or land that was owned by the Department. Ms van Zyl said that the Department of Land Affairs administered the land owned by the government and it was either leased out or sold.

Mrs Ntuli (ANC) wanted to know if it was possible to do further studies or a survey in the old homelands. Mr Botha repeated that due to financial restrictions experienced by the Department, it would not be able to undertake a detailed study. According to Dr Schoeman, attempts had been made to retrieve such information previously as the Committee did not have knowledge about the quality of land in the old homeland areas. Ms Van Zyl informed the committee that a survey was a long process and the Department would have to identify future surveys and prioritise them. As for applications for land development, developers would have to do their own surveys on the viability of the land. That would include land previously not surveyed. She was uncertain about the exact workings, as one would have to get that information from the Department of Land Affairs. She only dealt with agricultural land.

Ms Stolz reiterated that the Department could not stop the subdivision of a piece of land into smaller pieces if it was meant for agricultural purposes. It would, however, halt the sale of productive prime agricultural land if one wanted to use that land for purposes other than agricultural. She stressed that the regulation of land usage would not be continued.

Mrs Ntuli had a question regarding state-owned agricultural land. She wanted to know if land would be given to people who have projects, and if so, there would be the need to confirm that these projects belonged to legitimate people and not to unscrupulous developers.

Mr Gininda (ANC) wanted to know whether it was permissible for a farmer to give land to his workers. Regarding Mr Gininda’s question, Ms Van Zyl replied that under the current Subdivision Act, one needed to apply for permission from the Department of Land Affairs to split up the land. With the repeal of the Act that would no longer be necessary as long as the land was to be used for agricultural purposes. Wanting to know more about "for agricultural purposes", Mrs Seperepere asked what if the piece of land was to be used for agricultural enterprises, for example, by constructing a cheese-processing factory. Mr Botha replied that such cases were dealt with under the local provincial ordinance and one would not encounter difficulty.

 

Returning to the question of surveys, Dr Schoeman stressed that the resource survey should become a top priority in areas where people were suffering, especially in the old homeland areas. Surveys deserved attention because people's problems could not be addressed without a full survey. It needed top priority from the Department.

He also made the suggestion that the submission process should be slowed down until the next draft bill was available so as to know where the process was heading. The Chairperson said that the presentation could not be postponed as submissions had already been received. Mr Mnguni agreed with Dr Schoeman for the need to delay the process until the Bill had been drafted so as to get a more complete picture.

The Chairperson stated from whom they had received written submissions. These were:

Western Cape Department of Agriculture,

Free State Department of Agriculture,

Gauteng Department of Agriculture,

South African Agricultural Union and

Land and Agricultural Policy Centre.

Dr Schoeman felt that these submissions would be different if one knew what the new draft Bill would entail. Ms Van Zyl agreed with Dr Schoeman. The Act could not be repealed, said the Chairperson, without the new Bill being tabled as a vacuum would be created for people between the old Act’s repeal and the enactment of the new Bill. Ms Love wanted to know why it was necessary to repeal that Act now as the creation of the vacuum was known. Ms Van Zyl informed the Chairperson that the repeal of the Act was done under the instructions of the Minister. There was an awareness that the Development Facilitation Act alone would not address the vacuum once the Act was repealed. Mr Cronjé (ANC) showed his support for Dr Schoeman’s suggestion by saying that the public hearings should be cancelled. The meeting was closed by the Chairperson. She said that she needed clarification from the Minister regarding the subject.

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