Minister warns land reform beneficiaries

Land and Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana recently warned that her top officials would enforce a “use it or lose it” policy to ensure land-reform beneficiaries ran productive farms. She also said the government had run out of money for land reform in its current budget, and blamed white farmers for charging the state inflated prices for land-reform farms.

“I have visited farms where not one crop was planted in one to three years,” she told a briefing in Pretoria. I have instructed my directors-general to, with immediate effect, (enforce) the principle of use it or lose it” she said. “Therefore, those who do not use the land must immediately be removed, and the land must be given to emerging farmers and co-operatives.”

In a thinly veiled attack on market value as a key determinant of land prices, Xingwana said it was unfair to expect the government to pay “the price of a lifestyle estate” for farmland. “This is inflating the price of land,” she said.

Last year, Parliament shelved a law that would have made it easier for the government to expropriate at below market value, arguing that it might prove to be unconstitutional. Xingwana would not respond when asked if she planned to use the threat of expropriation to force landowners to accept lower prices.

The department’s R6,6bn land-reform budget for 2008-09 ran out at the beginning of last month. The next allocation, of R6,83bn, was due only next month, her officials said.

The money funded a variety of restitution, redistribution and tenure reform projects and farms, many of which are struggling to stay productive. The budget crunch had delayed the finalisation of several major restitution projects worth R600m to R800m each, which should have been wrapped up in 2008-09, the officials said. Most were in KwaZulu-Natal.

The government was therefore devising “creative ways” of bringing down costs, said acting chief land claims commissioner Blessing Mphela.

These included persuading owners to retain a portion of their property. A land-reform consultant to a major company, who did not want to be named, warned that late disbursements entailed more red tape, which would result in further lengthy delays.

“We have had several big projects approved, but land affairs is broke,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”
Xingwana also said that several senior officials had been suspended for financial mismanagement after recent internal investigations. “There are serious questions of gross negligence. Action will be taken against those found guilty.”

Sources said the agriculture component was expected to be merged with forestry to form a new department, with land affairs standing alone. This would reflect thinking in the African National Congress that land was a political flash point that required more focused attention.

Source: Stephan Hofstatter, Minister warns land reform beneficiaries, Business Day, March 05, 2009.

For text:

FMF Policy Bulletin/ 10 March 2009
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