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May 09, 2010

South Africa seeks new ways to speed up land reforms

South Africa's "willing-buyer willing-seller" land reform programme is not working and the government will introduce new ways to give more land to the black majority, President Jacob Zuma has said.
After the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa's government set a target of handing over 30 percent of commercial farmland to black people by 2014 as part of a plan to correct racial imbalances in land distribution caused by apartheid.

The government said earlier this year it would not meet the 2014 target of transferring commercial farmland to black farmers due to lack of funds to purchase land and so far only about 6 percent of agricultural land had been shifted to black people since 1994.

Zuma said in a speech at a black management conference the government was investigating less costly ways of land acquisition, by engaging with all groups within the sector, and promised significant changes to the current model of land redistribution.

"The general view is that the willing-buyer willing-seller model has not worked adequately thus far. We are working on a much more pragmatic formula to land redistribution," he said.

"To meet this constitutional obligation, one of our priorities is to ensure that land reform through redistribution and restitution, is more coherently linked to the creation of livelihoods for the poor," Zuma said.

Pretoria has vowed it will not follow the same route as Zimbabwe, where white commercial farmers were often violently driven from land by President Robert Mugabe's government.

It says 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.

The country's largest farmers' group has warned that a proposal last month to nationalise all farmland and limit the amount of land owned by farmers will seriously harm investment in agriculture.

The land affairs department in Africa's biggest economy recently published a strategic plan for 2010-2013, in which it proposed two options to speed up land transfers to landless black people.

Under the first option, which may require a constitutional change, all productive land will become a national asset with farmers paying taxes to lease land from the state.

A second option would be for limits to be imposed on landowners, curbing the amount of land they can own.

Zuma did not say whether these were the new measures the government was planning to implement.


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