South Africa’s land reform minister said on Friday it was impossible for the government to meet its target of acquiring farm land to restore to blacks after it was taken from them during apartheid.
After the fall of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress-led government set itself a target of handing 30 percent of all agricultural land to the black majority by 2014.
However, much of the land that has been taken over so far has not been used for farming and has laid idle for years.
“We cannot talk anymore about acquiring 30 percent of land (by 2014). It’s just not practically possible,” Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti told an agriculture conference.
The government said last year it had so far managed to transfer about 6 percent of land to blacks and had been slowed down mainly by a shortage of funds to buy land.
Land reform is a sensitive issue in South Africa and has been brought into focus by the decline in agriculture in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where white commercial farmers were often evicted violently by President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Pretoria has said its own land reform will be orderly, but critics say many of the same problems faced by Zimbabwe, including lack of proper support for new farmers and inadequate farming skills, are likely to hinder South Africa’s programme.
To try to speed up the process of land acquisition, the government plans to resort to land seizures, and intends to resubmit an expropriation bill to parliament later this year that would allow it to take farms by force when willing-buyer, willing-seller negotiations with land owners fail.
“We cannot raise 75 billion rand by 2014 to acquire the 82 million hectares of land that we have targeted… we just don’t have the money,” Nkwinti said.
Officials say the government has no plans to lower the targeted amount of land, but may extend the deadline to 2025.
Nkwinti said the government would also focus on refinancing those farms that it had taken over.
“We have said we will take about 25 percent of our budget, which is about 4 billion rand, which we are going to put into recapitalisation of all the farms taken by government since 1994, for the next 3-4 years.”
SOURCED FROM REUTERS