A new property law that bans foreigners from owning land in South Africa will be fast-tracked through parliament before the end of the current administration, the government confirmed this week. Under the new rules, foreign nationals will be allowed to lease South African land for a minimum of 30 years instead, rural development and land reform minister Gugile Nkwinti told a media briefing in Cape Town on Wednesday.
However, the newly appointed minister added that the ruling African National Congress party did not support the approach of expropriating property currently owned by foreigners, which government estimates to be about 7 per cent of all South Africa's land.
“It is possible that we could experience difficulties making the law retrospective on this question,” Mr Nkwinti said, adding that the ANC lacked the appetite to change the constitution, which would be required before expropriation could take place.
The Regulations of Land Holdings Bill is one of a number of land reform bills that President Jacob Zuma’s government is trying to sign into law before the end of his term in office in 2019. The new legislation will be brought before the house of assembly in about November, according to Mr Nkwinti.
However, the cut-off point for foreigners to buy property would likely only come towards the end of the current administration because a land audit to ascertain the race, gender and nationality of all owners had to be completed first.
Mr Nkwinti said the government would use the current legal definitions of the Department of Home Affairs to determine who was a foreigner. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we will just use the definition of what a foreign national is in the country,” he said.
The legislation is part of the government’s new efforts to tackle the thorny issue of land reform in South Africa and speed up the process of righting the land-related wrongs imposed by apartheid as well as colonialism.
Following the introduction of the 1913 Land Act, black South Africans were not allowed to own land and forced removals of indigenous people from their tribal lands by European settlers took place from as far back as the 1700s. As a result it is estimated that black South Africans, who make up 67 per cent of the population, only own about 7 per cent of the land.
In recent times, a weakened rand, which has devalued by about 45 per cent since mid-2010, and South Africa’s relatively stable environment, has led to a surge in foreign buyers picking up some of the country’s most sought-after properties.
The set of new laws is also likely a bid to undermine the new left-wing government critics that had emerged recently, such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by former ANC youth league leader Julius Malema, which won just over 6 per cent of vote in national elections this year.
The EFF has called for expropriation of land without compensation. Recently it offered to give the ANC the parliamentary support it needs to reach the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution in this regard.