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March 04, 2009

South Africa to take over under-utilised redistributed farms

by Muchena Zigomo

South Africa's government will take over farms allocated to black people under a land redistribution programme which are not being productively used, Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana has said.

"I have...instructed my directors general to, with immediate effect, implement the principle of use it or lose it," Xingwana told a media briefing. "Therefore, those who do not use the land must immediately be removed and the land must be given to emerging farmers and cooperatives...," she said.

After the fall of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress-led government set itself a target of handing 30 percent of all agricultural land to the black majority by 2014. The government programme included restitution, by which ancestral land was returned to black communities from whom it was taken before apartheid ended, and redistribution, allowing black farmers to secure loans to buy land from the government. However, much of the land has not been used for farming and has lain idle for years.

"The restitution programme has reached 95 percent completion. The 5 percent that is outstanding involves claims (on properties owned by) the mines, huge forestry projects and also claims that involve conservation areas," Xingwana said.

Land reform is a sensitive issue in South Africa and has been brought into sharp focus by the decline in agriculture in neighbouring Zimbabwe where white commercial farmers were often violently evicted by President Robert Mugabe's government.

Pretoria has vowed that its own land reform will be orderly, but critics say many of the same problems faced by Zimbabwe, including lack of proper support for new farmers and inadequate farming skills, are likely to stymie South Africa's programme.

Director General of Land Affairs Thozi Gwanya said the government could fail to meet its 2014 deadline for completing the land reform programme due to insufficient funds to compensate owners for land acquired by the government.

"We were allocated 6.6 billion rand for the land reform and land restitution programmes, but unless we inject more we cannot ... meet the 2014 target for completion," Gwanya told Reuters.

"We have said that we need 15 billion rand more if the programme is to be completed successfully."


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