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March 06, 2009

South Africa: Minister's stance to take back land won't hold

by Denise Mhlanga

As the ministry of land affairs and agriculture enforce its new policy to correct land reforms project, the reality of high food prices cannot be denied, says AgriSA and DA.

For some three years now, land given to black farmers has not been productive resulting in the Department of Land Affairs and Agriculture taking a stance to take away that land and give it to farmers who can make farms productive.

The minister of land affairs and agriculture Lulu Xingwana said no farm must be allowed to lie fallow. As a result, she has instructed her director generals to apply the principle of use it or lose it as from the "beginning of next week."

She said this is one of the ways of ensuring that land recipients fully utilise the land they are given.

Xingwana said investigations will be undertaken into those officials who have mismanaged projects and action will be taken against those found guilty. Already, two chief directors in the land affairs department have been suspended following investigations into mismanagement and gross negligence.

The Department of Land Affairs has not yet responded to questions posed by on what exactly 'taking back land' means and how long the process would last for.

Agri SA has offered its services and expertise to the department to assist it in the selection of potential and capable agricultural land beneficiaries but it has not taken the offer.

Speaking to on Friday, Agri SA President Johannes Moller said they offered to participate actively in identifying emerging farmers who could make land productive.

Moller said the Department of Land Affairs seems to have lost sight of what impact the collapse of the agriculture industry has on the economy and the nation itself.

It needs to say we trust white farmers to accelerate the land reform programme and ensure capable beneficiaries of agriculture land make full use of it once allocated to them, he said.

Moller said it is a good thing that the department acknowledges failures but if it does not have the right mechanism for selecting potential emerging farmers, none of the problems being experienced now will be ever solved thus stalling land claims further and running the agriculture industry to the ground.

Asked about food security and how this impacts on agriculture, he said in October 2008, Agri SA warned that food prices would increase this year and no one heeded that call yet there have always been hectares of agricultural land lying idle when it could have been producing food to feed the nation.

According to a report on Food Price Trends: January 2008 to January 2009 , within the context of food security in the SADC region, the current economic conditions and agricultural potential, combined with socio-economic problems in Zimbabwe will provide significant challenges to ensure household food security within the region.

The report further says this situation could potentially prolong the cycle of high food prices in South Africa as these countries also depend on SA for the supply of many food stuffs.

Overall the South African inflation figure is 8,1% while food inflation is 16,1% and food inflation remains one of the major drivers of overall inflation In South Africa, according to the Consumer Price Index for Food (CPI- Food) done by StatsSA.

In responding to the minister's principle of "use it or lose it", the Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson for land affairs, MP Maans Nel said while it welcomes the minister's acknowledgement of problems facing land reform projects, the department must not simply shift the blame.

MP Nel said South Africa cannot afford to have unproductive land when the country is faced with a clear danger of food shortages.

"The minister must not be allowed to shift blame entirely to land beneficiaries when her own department fails, in the first instance to ascertain whether there was a genuine interest on the part of the acquiring individuals to use land as productive farming business," he said.

He said Minister Xingwana's threat to enforce the "use it or lose it" policy against land reform beneficiaries who run unproductive farms is an attempt to shift blame for her own hopeless performance in providing the necessary support.

"Where title is given to land reform beneficiaries, the "use it or lose it" policy will simply not pass constitutional muster," said MP Nel.

Minister Xingwana can no longer deny that the ineptitude of the officials at the Department of Land Affairs is the reason that so many once thriving farm projects are now in a complete state of collapse.

The decision to place the Land Bank under Treasury amid financial irregularities is a clear example of the minister's ineptitude, said MP Nel.

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