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March 31, 2010

South African land minister's Zimbabwe references criticised

A warning by Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti that commercial farmers must cooperate to avoid a situation in South Africa "worse than Zimbabwe" drew sharp reaction from agricultural union TAU-SA and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) on March 30.

Nkwinti's remarks, reportedly made during an interview, were "irresponsible", the union's president, Ben Marais, said in a statement.

"We see Minister Nkwinti's remarks as an ill-camouflaged threat to farmers that their land can be occupied the Zimbabwe way if they are not prepared to give their land away. TAU-SA regards this as a subtle given command to militants to occupy land to intimidate farmers," he said.

Marais questioned why the government wanted more land.

"They had to admit several times that most of the land-reform projects have failed totally... grabbing land in the Zimbabwe way will also lead to farms going unproductive and food security [being] threatened."

Marais said that given the "loaded situation" in the country, statements such as Nkwinti's should not be permissible. He called on Nkwinti to apologise, or for his remark to be repudiated by President Jacob Zuma.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, the FF+ also labelled Nkwinti's reference to Zimbabwe irresponsible.

"The farmers have been cooperating for a long time already, but it is the government and its incompetent officials who do not cooperate.

"The fact that Nkwinti shares the views of black South Africans -- that land has to be nationalised -- is in contrast with what he said last week in Parliament. Nkwinti therefore speaks with a forked tongue," FF+ land-reform spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said.

The minister's remark created the impression that he "subconsciously encourages" Zimbabwean-type land reforms. This, he cautioned, was "not in the interest of anybody in South Africa."

The Democratic Alliance called on the government to clarify what it called "conflicting statements" on the land issue. In a statement, DA land-reform spokesperson Mpowele Swathe said that Nkwinti, in the earlier interview, had "actively endorsed plans to nationalise farmland".

But last week, his deputy, Joe Phaahla, had said all the department wanted to do was come up with a model for land reform, and it had no intention to nationalise land.

"Is a plan to nationalise farmland on the cards or not? This isn't a game. It goes to the heart of our economy and its best financial management. "Being inconsistent or unclear on such a fundamental issue is like the Treasury vaguely suggesting pegging the currency against the Zimbabwean dollar," he said.

Placing control of this entire economic sector in the hands of the state could have the effect of destroying it, Swathe warned. 

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