The department of Rural Development and Land Reform has endorsed the proposal to drop the “willing buyer, willing seller” approach to land reform, saying the government has been exploited by commercial farmers who inflate land prices.
The department is under pressure to transfer 30 percent of agricultural land to black people by 2014, with an estimated R27 billion needed from Treasury over the next three years.
The ANC policy conference last week proposed that the “willing buyer, willing seller” approach be dropped as it was too costly and slow.
It also agreed that the expropriation of land with “just and equitable” compensation was the preferred alternative.
The ruling party would not have to change the constitution, as it makes provision for expropriation with compensation in the public interest.
Deputy Minister Lechesa Tsenoli said in an interview with the Pretoria News that not enough commercial farmers were showing a willingness to co-operate with the government.
The state was at a disadvantage as it was the only willing buyer, making it susceptible to inflated prices, sometimes with the involvement of corrupt departmental officials.
The Special Investigating Unit last year uncovered corruption involving about R300 million in grants issued under the department’s land reform programme.
A prominent businessman and three department officials are facing charges related to this. Three farms worth about R51 million have been forfeited as they are considered proceeds of crime.
“In some instances there have been problems of collusion between department officials and some farmers, badly distorting land prices. Even where there is no corruption the prices are high. That created a problem.”
Establishing a valuer-general’s office was among the interventions under discussion to deal with the problem of sellers inflating land prices, said Tsenoli.
The government had no choice but to reach the target of transferring 30 percent of the 82 million hectares of agricultural land that was now in the hands of presumably white commercial farmers, he said. “That’s an old target and there is nothing unrealistic about it.
“We should be doing more than 30 percent. It’s a fraction of what we realistically ought to be talking about almost two decades after freedom,” Tsenoli said.
“We have to move mountains to be able to deliver on that target.”
Tsenoli shot down criticism that most of the land that had changed hands through restitution or redistribution was now unproductive, saying that in some instances these farms had not been run productively anyway.
“Some farms that were bought were not managed well by their previous owners. They ran them down before they were claimed back.
“It should have been expected that when you destroy people’s relationship with the land, their farming experience will go away and you will have to re-establish it.
“The priority was the political imperative to give them back what is theirs, and there are examples where this had been successful.”
There was an urgent need to redistribute land successfully as land was at the centre of efforts to lift people out of poverty, Tsenoli said. Next year, it would be 100 years since the Native Land Act of 1913 dispossessed black people of their land.
“The other urgency comes from the fact that for 100 years the structure of the economy has remained more or less the same. The majority of people have not significantly played a role in the economy in critical areas, except as cheap labour and peripheral players.”
The department would be able to meet the deadline of December 31, as indicated at the ANC policy conference, for completing the audit of state and public land, he said.