SA to ‘fast track’ land restitution

Recently appointed Land Affairs minister, Lulu Xingwana, said last week the government would forge ahead with its plan to complete the programme by its 2008 deadline, in spite of the efforts of some noncompliant white land owners to scuttle the state’s plans.

While handing over a piece of land to the Gumbi community in Pongola last week, Xingwana, who was appointed to replace former Land Affairs minister Thoko Didiza in a cabinet reshuffle two months ago, said she was now racing against time to settle all outstanding land claims.

Her urgency appears to have been inspired by widespread concerns regarding the ‘slow’ pace of land restitution in South Africa, as well as recent concerns raised in parliament that indigenous South Africans are “running out of patience for land”. “President Thabo Mbeki has given the Land Claims Commission a clear directive to resolve all the outstanding land claims by 2008. But that may be too long.

“Our people cannot wait from 1913, the year the law that dispossessed them was enacted. I will not allow “taaiheads” (the hard-headed) to frustrate the fast-tracking of the remaining unresolved claims,” Xingwana said.

The government has said it is seriously mulling resorting to expropriation in those instances where it fails to reach an amicable settlement with landowners, some of whom have said the prices they are being offered for their land are “too low”.

Three weeks ago Xingwana fired a broadside at the white landowners, saying they were deliberately trying to delay the process of land restoration in the hope that it would “just go away”.

“Should we wait or negotiate for another 10 years so that we can able to make sense to those individual farmers who are fighting the land restitution process,” she asked

“Our land reform is not an adversary programme, but more a reconciliatory one. We expect some of the land owners to acknowledge such a gesture without deliberately delaying this historical question of land,” Xingwana said.

She said the poor response by the farmers was an effort to compromise the efforts of her ministry and of the government to “heal the wounds of the past” and was “unacceptable”.

“I have an unfinished business in land restitution process…I cannot talk restitution indefinitely. I have to ensure that the mandate to restore the land back to its rightful owners is completed.

“(I) will not be compromised by few individual landowners. Indeed, we will take drastically to deal with individuals, who think they can frustrate our programme,” the minister reportedly said at a handover ceremony of a farm in the North West province.

The government says since the beginning of the restoration programme it has managed to settle 86.2 percent of the 79 000 land claims that it has received, while 10 977 claims are still outstanding.

Of the outstanding claims, 2 922 are in urban areas while 8 055 are in rural areas.

Xingwana said the rural claims were hard to settle because the history of removals was not properly documented when they were carried out in those areas, and it was thus difficult to reinstate the land to its rightful owners.

The land affairs minister said she was also worried by the trend of absentee farming that threatened to jeopardise the benefits of the land restitution programme.

This really makes it difficult to engage them on continuous basis since they are not easily accessible,” she said.

In a recent debate on agriculture and land affairs in parliament, African National Congress (ANC) National Council of Provinces (NCOP) member, Rev Peter Moatshe, said pressure was mounting for the government to take action towards returning land to those who were dispossessed.

He said the process should be urgently accelerated, as dispossessed and marginalised South Africans were “running out of patience”.

“The people who are yearning for land are running out of patience. Unless we are blind…not to read between the lines…the pressure (for urgent land redistribution) is coming,” Moatshe said.

The MP’s statements came amid mounting pressure over the South African government’s “cautious” approach to the land redistribution exercise, an approach state officials have said is deliberately designed to avoid the rushed witnessed in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Moatshe urged the parliamentary land committee to put in place measures to force “those who have land” into sharing it with the “rightful owners” who were dispossessed of their land in the apartheid era “before it was too late”.

He also accused the current possessors of land of refusing “to comply to (sic) the sentiments of the Freedom Charter that we shall share this land”.

July 2006
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