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July 29, 2009

South Africa govt. to review 'use or lose' land policy

by Muchena Zigomo

South Africa may scrap its policy of taking back farms deemed unproductive after they were given to blacks under a land redistribution programme, a government spokesman said on Wednesday. The policy has been heavily criticised by some farmers' unions, who argue it worsens tensions over the land issue between unions, the government and land reform beneficiaries.

The government was considering changes to the 'use it or lose it' policy introduced by former agriculture and land affairs minister Lulama Xingwana in March and could scrap the policy altogether, said Eddie Mohoebi, spokesman for the new Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

"The department will review the policy in order to determine it effectiveness, desirability, and circumstances under which it shall be applied, if at all," Mohoebi said.

Possible changes might include improved post-settlement support for people being given land, he said.

Xingwana announced the policy in March and proceeded to take over two farms which she said had been poorly used and left idle by beneficiaries of the land redistribution programme.

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

Pretoria has said its own version of the programme would 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, were likely to stymie South Africa's programme.

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.

"If we find that we have done everything that is required...but people keep on not using the land and that a project has failed because people are not driven to succeed then in that case such people will be replaced," Mohoebi said.


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