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Report on the Regulation of Ownership of Land in South Africa by Foreigners

Volume 1

Presented to the Minister for Agriculture and Land Affairs, Ms A T Didiza, on 17 February 2006, Pretoria

SARPN acknowledges the Department of Land Affairs as the source of this document:
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Background: appointment of the Panel and the terms of reference

The land question in South Africa is central to the actualisation of the core constitutional values of human dignity, the achievement of equality, the advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, non-racism and non-sexism. Equitable access to land is a yard stick for measuring the worth of citizenship and how rights, freedoms and responsibilities are distributed in the New South Africa. In essence, progress in resolving the land question is an important barometer for measuring the manner in which South Africa is consolidating its democratic gains. In other words, reasonable and equitable resolution of the land question is an essential component in the building and the sustainability of constitutional democracy in South Africa.

The Panel of Experts on Foreign Ownership of Land (PEFOL) was constituted and commissioned by the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs on 24 August 2004, long before the July 2005 National Summit that urged the government to impose a moratorium on acquisition of land in South Africa by foreigners. Despite government's concerted effort to address the land question through restitution, tenure security, and facilitating access to land through redistribution and the provision of housing as mandated by sections 25 and 26 of the Constitution, there remains a strong and growing public opinion and impression that more needs to be done, and be so done at a faster pace. There is also very strong public opinion and perception, as manifest in the public hearings convened by the PEFOL, that an unregulated ownership of land and landed property, such as housing, by foreigners contributes significantly to the lack of readily available and affordable land for land reform. Given the history of racially based exclusion of the majority of citizens from land ownership, development and use under the colonial and apartheid regimes, unregulated acquisition and disposal of land and landed property without some priority of access being given to those who were arbitrarily excluded can only lead to perpetuating the status quo.

It is within this background and context that Government considered it imperative to start a process of developing a comprehensive policy on foreign ownership of land. The PEFOL was appointed to assist Government in understanding the extent of ownership of land in the country by citizens and foreigners, the legal and policy landscape, the policies and legislative framework in selected representative foreign countries on the matter; and to point to possible policy, regulatory and legal reforms for consideration by the Government.

The Terms of Reference (TOR) of PEFOL are, amongst others, to investigate, consider and make recommendations regarding:

  • The nature, extent, trends and impact of the acquisition and use of, and investment in land in South Africa by non-South African citizens;

  • The extent to which the current lack of a comprehensive policy and legislative framework contributes to the acquisition, use and investment in land by non-South African citizens;

  • Whether the Government should (and how) monitor and intervene by policy, legislative and other means, in preventing any possible negative consequence of land acquisition/use by non-South African citizens;

  • The impact on the property markets on land acquisition and use by non-South African citizens, distinguishing between land use for residential, commercial, agriculture, eco-tourism/tourism/game lodge and golf course purposes; and

  • Comparative international practices (laws, policies, impact, etc) on the issue of land ownership by non-citizens.
In executing its mandate and tasks, PEFOL considered the relevance of size and percentages as well as economic value of land to the question in study. Within the African context, however, other considerations of historical, spiritual, emotional and strategic nature are equally important. The need to promote social stability may necessitate restrictions on foreign ownership. Governments the world over are often unable to resist popular pressures around land ownership since assuaging national emotions becomes a legitimate consideration.

The PEFOL regrets that it was not able to present the written progress report earlier as it had to grapple with the difficulties of obtaining, analysing and mapping concrete data from the Deeds Registry, practitioners in the property sector and the plethora of legislation regulating land development and use at all the 3 spheres of Government. There was also need to undertake study tours to the selected foreign countries in order to gather and verify information that may be useful for benchmarking the development and management of a new South African regulatory framework. The Report has established the approximate proportion and categories of foreign owned land, the constitutionality of regulating foreign land ownership and provided a landscape of the disparate legislation applicable to regulation of land development and use. The report has also exposed the widely held myth that there is abundant unoccupied state owned land suitable for land redistribution.

The Report is divided into eight parts. The first 7 narrative parts are in Volume 1. Part 8 consisting of 12 appendices appears separately in volumes 2-7.

The seven (7) parts in Volume 1 consists of the following:

  1. The executive summary
  2. Analysis of public written submissions, oral presentation and parliamentary committee's recommendations and the national land summit resolutions
  3. Quantification and spatial mapping of patterns of land ownership and property prices
  4. Forms of regulation of ownership and use of land and property by non-citizens in selected foreign countries and report of study visits by the Panel
  5. Revision, harmonisation and rationalisation of development planning and land use legislation
  6. Initial recommendations for immediate policy consideration; and
  7. On-going tasks for the preparation of the final report.

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