Foreign land ownership talks to continue

Government signalled on Wednesday that the public debate about foreign ownership of land in the country would continue.

Speaking after the regular meeting of the cabinet in Pretoria, government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe told a media briefing that the meeting was informed of "on-going work towards the launch of a public discussion on the matter of foreign land ownership in South Africa".

"The process will include research on a variety of issues, including a comprehensive audit of land ownership in our country. A panel of experts from within and outside of government will be appointed, and the public will be invited to submit their views on the matter," said Netshitenzhe.

"It is only once they have done that (the research) that the panel can interact with the public," said Netshitenzhe.

President Thabo Mbeki backed the national discussion of the issue of foreign land ownership during his budget vote in the National Assembly in June.

He referred to official opposition leader Tony Leon's concern that restrictions on foreign ownership were "a red flag for foreign investors".

Mbeki said Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza "was correct to call for a national discussion of the issue of foreign land ownership".

"To stop this discussion, which will take place, Leon seeks to frighten the country with the notion that restrictions on foreign ownership are a red flag for foreign investors," the president stated.

He went on to say: "And yet many countries have such restrictions. These include Switzerland and Canada, to cite only two. We know of no reports that this has served as a 'red flag' to the foreigners who have invested in these countries".

"Quite why Switzerland and Canada can have such restrictions without frightening foreign investors while similar restrictions in our country would produce an opposite response from foreign investors is difficult to fathom."

Leon had made the remarks in parliament after pointing to information that Equatorial Guinea "dictator" President Teodoro Obiang Nguema was buying a R23.5-million property in the luxury Cape Town suburb of Clifton. Leon said if President Nguema were allowed to buy expensive property "we should certainly welcome all foreign investors into our property markets".

The debate about the issue arose from a national Sunday newspaper, City Press, which reported Didiza as saying that South Africa needed a policy framework that would stipulate "that no foreigner can own land but can have a 99-year lease".

Netshitenzhe said today that there was the possibility that there would be no change of policy on the foreign ownership front but the impact on South African land ownership.

"There is no policy ... that is why we want a public discussion ... currently the department of land affairs and agriculture is doing a comprehensive audit of various forms of land ownership in the country, including foreign ownership.

They intend to appoint the panel of experts. That panel will release the information about the result of the audit.

"It will invite the public to look at the question whether you need any restriction as far as foreign ownership of land is concerned. Among the questions that should arise would be whether foreign ownership impacts on the price of land in the country and whether South Africans have got access to land."

Article By: Donwald Pressly - http://business.iafrica.com