February 27, 2003

More money for land reform

The land-reform programme received a welcome injection from the treasury yesterday with an additional R1,9bn awarded for land restitution and redistribution. The move follows increased lobbying by the agriculture and land affairs department and strong pressure from critics who claim land reform is too slow.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said in his budget speech yesterday that extra funding for land restitution was in recognition of "the critical role it plays in restoring what rightfully belongs to those formerly dispossessed". "It is the right thing to do," Manuel said. Of the R1,9bn, R800m will go to the land-restitution programme, with the balance for other land-reform projects.

Tozi Gwanya, acting chief land claims commissioner for the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, said additional support from the treasury indicated government's political will to redistribute land in the country. "This is a very significant increase in our allocation, compared to the previous year (R350m). It will enable us to speed up the restitution programme, with the funds going towards land transfers and financial compensation," said Gwanya. However, the commission estimated it would need R1,6bn to settle about 10000 claims. "The sum may not be enough, but it will help to settle most of these claims," said Gwanya.

President Thabo Mbeki has given the commission until the end of next year to settle all outstanding restitution claims. With more than half of the 64000 claims already settled, the commission said it was set to make the target next year. At the end of last year more than 36000 claims were settled, benefiting 437000 claimants. The commission has spent R1,8bn on restitution claims, with R1,2bn going on financial compensation and R430m on land costs.

Government set a target in 2000 to redistribute a third of agricultural land from white to black owners by 2015. However, less than 2% of the land has been redistributed so far. This has led to fierce criticism that government's land-reform programme was not effective. Criticism has been levelled at government's model of land reform, based on a willing-seller, willing-buyer model. Nongovernmental organisations and emerging farmers union the National African Farmers Union said that many white farmers frustrated land reform by not wanting to sell lucrative agricultural land. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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