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March 26, 2009

South Africa urged to give priority to farm workers in land redistribution

by Muchena Zigomo

MSouth Africa's largest farmers' union urged the government March 25 to revise its new policy of taking back unproductive farms.

Theo de Jager, deputy president of farmers body AgriSA, said the government's "use it or lose it" policy was likely to worsen tensions between unions, the government and land reform beneficiaries.

"The whole process should be redesigned. We fear that this (use it or lose it policy) might lead to even more conflict ... on land reform farms," De Jager told a media briefing.

Tensions have surfaced over the selection of beneficiaries for the land redistribution programme, with unions accusing the government of giving land that should be used for commercial farming to inexperienced and inadequately supported people, threatening South Africa's food security.

Land reform is a sensitive issue, highlighted by the decline in agriculture in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe's government violently evicted white commercial farmers from their land.

"We call for a total redesign of the composition of beneficiaries," De Jager said. "For one, land should not be transferred to whole communities, it doesn't work." He said farm workers and ex-farm workers should be given priority in the selection of beneficiaries for land redistribution.

"Many of them have spent a lifetime on farms and very often they have all the practical know-how," he said.

The government took over an ostrich farm from a co-operative earlier this month after Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana announced the "use it or lose it" policy for farms which the black beneficiaries have left idle. Xingwana said the policy would be applied to farms falling under the redistribution programme, which enables blacks to secure loans to buy or lease land from the government.

It would not apply to restitution, by which black communities recover ancestral land taken from them under apartheid.


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