Govt remains committed to land-reform objectives

The government will not abandon its aim of transferring 30% of land to black owners because failure to redistribute posed the risk of Zimbabwe-style polarisation, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti said on Tuesday.

“We remain obsessed with 30%. The issue has a great potential for polarisation,” Nkwinti told a media briefing by Cabinet’s economic and employment cluster.

He confirmed a statement by the Director General of the department, Thozi Gwanya, last week that the government realised it would not be able to achieve its target of transferring 30% of land to black owners by 2014.

So far only about 5% has been redistributed.

Gwanya told Business Day that the government was thinking of extending its deadline to 2025 due to a lack of funding made worse by the recession.

He said R71-billion would have been needed to buy outstanding land by 2014, but Treasury had asked the department to revise its request of an additional R18-billion over three years to a more realistic sum.

Nkwinti said his ministry had not yet made it formal policy to shift the deadline to 2025 but was looking into the matter.

He said the government was aware that it could never move swiftly enough to address expectations on land reform but believed that people wanted to know that the state was aware of their problems.

The minister reiterated that the state’s “willing buyer, willing seller” model of land reform did not work.

Officials are working on a new draft of an expropriation Bill—that would have facilitated the seizure of land from white farmers unwilling to sell—after withdrawing it because of constitutional concerns.

The department ran into another legal hurdle last week when the North Gauteng High Court struck down large portions of the Communal Land Rights Act, which would have been a pillar of the Zuma administration’s rural development programme.

The law, which was declared unconstitutional, was challenged because of the powers it gave the state to privatise communal land.

Nkwinti said the state would not challenge the court ruling.

He said critics of land reform were wrong to blame failing farming operations on redistributed land for the drop in agricultural production in South Africa, which was partly the result of vast areas of arable land being turned into game farms.

“They are no longer producing maize, potatoes.”—Sapa

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