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June 29, 2011

South African land acquisition targets 'impossible'

Acquiring 30% of arable land by 2014 is impossible, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti said on June 28, after a meeting hailed by farmers' unions as a "refreshing" step that would go a long way to bridging the divide between farmers and the state.

"I do not understand the assumptions underlying that. Let's agree that it's not possible," Nkwinti told media in Pretoria after his meeting with commercial farmers, at which land reform was high on the agenda

Nkwinti said acquiring just the 30% of land from the hands of white commercial farmers would cost R40-billion, which was currently not available. He said the process had dragged on for such a long time "because of red tape."

"What is happening is that you have a constitutional order in the country which you must comply with, which protects private property. If you want to expedite movement even including changing the property clause in the constitution, you have to consult South Africans -- it's a long process.

  "Secondly, you have to find R40-billion to purchase that 30% of the land. R40-billion in the current global economic situation is just impossible to find."

His department only had R2-billion allocated to it for land restitution, which was nowhere near the funds needed to reach the target.

Nkwinti said government could only account for about 7% of land at the moment. "Two percent [was auctioned back to commercial farmers], so it leaves us with about 5%, he said.

Concern has been raised by politicians about the slow pace at which land reform was moving. Among them is ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who says the ANC Youth League will ensure that the government begins expropriating land without compensation, to redistribute it speedily to the masses.

"It's obvious the target of expropriating 30% of land by 2014 will not be reached ... At the rate we are going now, it means we will only be able to expropriate 5% of land every 20 years, meaning it will take us 100 years to expropriate 20%. We will not be part of that failure," Malema has said.

His views led to an uproar by angry agricultural organisations, including black groupings, calling this land grab talk "insane."

Over the weekend, ANC Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile also called for the process to be speeded up.

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