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November 20, 2008

South Africa to be more practically supportive of land reform beneficiaries

by Colleen Dardagan

A rescue plan for land reform failure in South Africa is ready for approval, as farmers lose faith in the government's agricultural policies.

This is while land affairs authorities say they need more than R30-billion to develop farms now owned by land claimants across the country.

Acting chief land claims commissioner Blessing Mphela said his new plan for land restitution was ready for political approval. "Unfortunately, the politicians are a little distracted by electioneering, but I am ready."

Reluctant to divulge the contents of the plan, Mphela hinted that the land affairs department would have a much more practical approach once farms had been handed over, and that commercial farmers' involvement would play a key role.

"We have to work fast to deal with the uncertainty among white farmers. They have lost faith in government structures, but we need to work closely with them now to come up with a sustainable plan.

Our approach is much more hands-on now and we want the farmers to get involved. This plan must make business sense to them as well - they're not charitable organisations," he said. He
Mphela warned land claimants that they would also be called to account.

"They mustn't think when we give them the land they can do with it what they wish. We are now busy auditing all the projects that we've handed over so far and establishing the reasons for their failure. We're also establishing the viability of these projects," he said.

Although the government had spent more than R10-billion ($1 billion) nationally in buying farms for claimants, Mphela said too little money had been set aside for development.

"The economists tell us that for every R1 we spend on buying land, we need R2 to sustain it. That means we should have set aside at least R30-billion for development. With the economic slowdown, we are hesitant to ask the government to borrow more money, but we have to come up with a joint plan to find this kind of money."

IFP spokesman Henry Crombrink agreed land reform in the KZN region had failed. "Out of 100 commercial farms in the Umlalazi municipality, 19 have been handed over to previously disadvantaged farmers. As many as 16 of those farms are no longer productive, owing to insufficient training and a failure by the KZN department of agriculture to provide adequate support services," he said.

Agriculture MEC Mtholephi Mthimkhulu called on the farming community to assist the government with the new rescue plan. "We cannot capacitate emerging farmers without the support of commercial farmers. Agriculture is the economic backbone of this province. We cannot stand by and watch it go down," he said.


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