S. Africa land restitution on course

Dirk du Toit, South Africa ‘s deputy minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs said the restitution programme, designed to correct racial imbalances in land ownership in the country was on course despite some concerns that the programme was a failure.

Speaking after a meeting of the Presidential Commercial Agricultural Working Group last week, Du Toit said: “There’s this wrong perception that most of these (land reform) projects, especially restitution, are failing. That is not true, they are working”.

He said the country’s restitution commission, tasked with facilitating the restitution process, had “performed brilliantly” and ensured that the process would be completed on time.

But while the South Africa’s black community has been eagerly anticipating the restitution process, a significant number of the white farmers holding the majority of farm land believe restitution will do more harm than good.

Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) general manager Bennie van Zyl, who also attended the agricultural working group meeting said the restitution programme “would not work”, as the black farmers being resettled onto the land lacked the proper skills required to engage in commercial farming.

He said the new farmers needed competencies such as the ability to “accept responsibility, financial management and knowledge of markets,” which many of them did not have.

“Not everybody can be a farmer,” Van Zyl said.

Despite the desire by white farmers to hold on to the land, the country’s landless indigenous citizens are understood to be restless for land.

In a recent parliamentary debate on agriculture and land affairs, 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.

Moatshe told parliament that South Africa’s landless blacks were getting impatient with the country’s protracted land reform programme and “the process should be considerably accelerated”.

He said there was much doubt that the government could achieve its target of placing at least 30 percent of the land in South Africa in the hands of indigenous people by 2015.

After last week’s meeting, Agriculture and Land Affairs minister Lulu Xingwana acknowledged that there were concerns within government and “other quarters” that the process towards returning land to the country’s marginalised black community was “taking too long” and needed to be fast-tracked.

However, Xingwana said consultations would be conducted with concerned parties to address the concerns.

Government’s Chief land claims Commissioner, Tozi Gwanya, recently said white farmers had responded “positively” to government moves to takeover their land, after the state threatened to seize their farms by force if they failed to cooperate in the country’s land redistribution exercise.

Gwanya said since the government had threatened expropriation, a growing number of white farmers were now “willing” to come to the table to negotiate terms for giving up their land.

The statements were in spite of complaints by the farmers that the state was arm-twisting them into selling their land against their will.

The government says it has posted some successes in its vision towards restitution.

October 2006
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