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KwaZulu-Natal is on track when it comes to redistributing white-owned, strategically located agricultural land, and in settling land claims.
The province has about 4 million hectares of agricultural land in total, and so far about 1 million hectares have been transferred through redistribution and restitution.
Bonginkosi Zulu, acting chief director of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, said the province’s target for the 2012/2013 financial year was to redistribute another 31 581ha of land.
The previous financial year saw about 25 000ha of land being redistributed. Zulu said targets were determined yearly based on the availability of funds.
His comments were supported by the president of Kwanalu, the KZN Agricultural Union, Brian Aitken, who said that, according to its land audit, which had not yet been made public, the land reform process was on track.
Kwanalu’s audit showed that 26 percent of land had already been transferred and the 30 percent target would be reached by 2014. (By comparison, the national redistribution of land stood at 8 percent.)
Of concern, Aitken said, was that a lot of land that had been transferred had become unproductive because of a lack of skills.
“To be a farmer, you need three elements: land, skills and finance. If you take away one of these, you will fail,” he said.
To address the skills shortage, the government needed to engage more with agricultural organisations in the provinces, so that mentorship programmes could be established.
“These would go a long way towards alleviating skills shortages… we are saying the government should use the expertise that is there,” he said.
Although land redistribution was working, Zulu said there were proposed changes in the Green Paper on land reform to fast-track the process.
Land earmarked for redistribution was strategically located, which ensured land tenure and food security.
“This equates to land suitable for grazing, settlement and cropping. Commercial (high value) land is also acquired (to a lesser extent than the former) to improve the socio-economic status of certain regions – for instance, to promote job creation and to alleviate poverty and inequality,” he said.
When asked how emerging farmers were being helped by the state to guarantee that the farms they took over stayed productive, Zulu said that in 2009 the department launched the recapitalisation and development programme.
Emerging small-scale and distressed farmers were supported through this programme through strategic partners and mentors who were established and knowledgeable entities/individuals in the agri-business sector.
On President Jacob Zuma’s remarks that the government could ditch the willing buyer, willing seller land reform policy because it was “too expensive” and “taking too long” |to address the landlessness brought about by the expropriation laws of 1913, Zulu would not comment, saying these issues would be addressed in the Green Paper on land reform.
“Any changes in the legislation will seek to improve the (land reform) process,” he said.
When it came to land restitution, Bheki Mbili, the chief director of land restitution support in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, said he was happy with the swiftness with which claims were being settled in KZN, although he and his team would like to do more.
He said provisional figures from the department’s land audit, which still needed to be verified, showed that more than 14 000 claims had been lodged in the province from 1994 until the cut-off date in 1998.
No claims had been accepted since then.
Mbili said that, at the conceptualisation stage, the government thought the restitution process would be finalised in 2008, but that did not happen because of the complexity of the task.
“We are racing against time in terms of targets. This is not to say we are not making progress,” he said, adding that a new deadline had not yet been set.
Problems encountered in resolving land claims included infighting among claimants and agreeing on the purchase price of the land under claim.
Claims could be settled by the claimants either receiving financial compensation or by being given the land.
“Last year a lot of people opted to be financially compensated,” he said.
However, Mbili said this affected the targets set out by the national government on how much land should be owned by black people.
Although a certain number of claims would be settled, this did not mean all the land involved would now be black-owned, taking into consideration that some of the claimants chose to be financially compensated.
He added that state-owned land for which claims had been lodged were dealt with in the same way as private property.
Land belonging to the Ingonyama Trust was not being redistributed, as it was already communally owned.