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May 11, 2008

South African farmers protest slow land reform

Small-scale farmers from the Western and Northern Cape provinces marched to Parliament on Friday in protest against government's "sluggish" land reform programme.

The more than 200 protesters accused government of turning a deaf ear to their grievances, which included land deprivation and lack of state support.

Waving a placard with a "bring back my land" message, secretary of Cederberg Emerging Farmers Forum, Hendrik Janse, said government had failed to respond to challenges faced by previously disadvantaged farmers. "We have been raising these concerns about lack of infrastructure and finance since the early 90s but up to now there has been no response from government. When land affairs officials come to speak to the people they only address them in English and yet almost all the small farmers in our areas do not understand the language," he said.

Small farmers were also frustrated by the government's "sluggish" land reform programme.

Spokesperson of the Northern Cape small farmers Daniel Engelbreit said most of the programmes put in place by government to support previously disadvantaged farmers had collapsed due to either corruption or lack of interest from land affairs officials. "Irrigation and other support programmes meant to assist small farmers collapse within a few months and nothing is being done to revive them," he said. "The fact that these small scale farmers, who hardly have any money, travelled all the way from the Northern Cape to come and participate in this march demonstrates the extent of their desperation," he said.

Accepting the memorandum on behalf of Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana, Chief Director in the Western Cape Provincial Land Reform office, Terance Fife said the department viewed the farmers' grievances as critical, and that he would immediately convey them to the minister.

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