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February 06, 2009

Land claim irregularities killing agriculture, says South African farmers’ group

by Theo de Jager*

Delays of more than a decade in finalising land claims have had a disastrous impact on agricultural production and investments, especially in the Northern provinces. There have been no profitable farming operations on any of the thousands of farms transferred to date in terms of the restitution process, while investor confidence is inhibited by the limitations which land claims inevitably place on the development, financing, sub-division, selling or expansion of farming units, resulting in a decline of production.

Agri SA is sceptical about the announcement made by Chief Land Claims Commissioner Andrew Mpehla to the effect that a further R50 billion was needed to finalise outstanding land claims. To date the Commission has spent R17 billion to finalise 95% of the 72 000 land claims. The complexity, magnitude and cost of the remaining 5% could cause the process to drag on for another decade.

It takes on average 46 months to finalise a simple claim, while several thousand claims have not even been published in the Government Gazette.

Despite the assurance that the Commission has given Parliament since 2004 that they were on track with the processing of land claims, the deadline, which had been extended four times, was again missed at the end of December 2008.

No further deadline has been set to date and there is apparently no urgency on the part of the Commission to finalise the outstanding claims.

The Commission has to a large extent created its own crisis in that far more claims have been published in the Government Gazette than were originally registered before 1999. In Magoebaskloof, for example, only six farms were claimed, yet the Land Claims Commission listed more than 500 farms under this claim in the Government Gazette. Where only a few farms under a land claim are purchased, operations on the remaining farms in the area are undermined for an unlimited period due to the land claim. Not a single claim of which the validity was disputed has been finalised and delisted since 1999.

The Commission remains largely inaccessible to land owners, while legal action has to be instituted for the release of documents such as claim forms, research reports, valuations and claim lists at enormous cost. Attempts to speak to the Chief Land Claims Commissioner in this regard have been unsuccessful since 2006 because he fails to keep confirmed appointments with organised agriculture.

In December 2008, Agri SA lodged a complaint against the Land Claims Commission with the Human Rights Commission, citing intimidation of land owners to accept up to 40% less than market value for land. This is contrary to the government's policy of paying market value in the case of land reform. In some cases the Commission failed to pay for farms although such farms had been transferred in the Deeds Office to land claimants months before.

Since the registration of land claims closed in 1998, a complete list of land claims has not been made available. This leaves the system extremely susceptible to irregularities. Commercial agriculture can no longer afford the uncertainty, bureaucracy and maladministration relating to the restitution process, especially given that South Africa had in 2008 for the first time become a net importer of food.

*Agri SA Deputy President

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