Cape Town - Government is to drop the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle with regard to land reform and restitution, President Jacob Zuma confirmed on Thursday.

“We must shorten the time it takes to finalise a claim. In this regard, government will now pursue the 'just and equitable' principle for compensation, as set out in the Constitution,” he announced in his state-of-the-nation address on Thursday

Telling MPs that the land question in South Africa was a “highly emotive matter”, Zuma said the willing-buyer, willing seller principle previously applied had forced the state to pay more for land.

“The land question is a highly emotive matter. We need to resolve it amicably within the framework of the Constitution and the law.”

Zuma said he had been urged to accelerate land redistribution.

“From 1994, we have been addressing the land reform problem through restitution, redistribution, and tenure reform. As stated before, we will not be able to meet our redistribution targets.”

Government's mid-term review last year had revealed a number of shortcomings in its land reform implementation programme.

Zuma said there were proposed amendments to the Restitution of Land Rights Act “in order to provide for the re-opening of the lodgement of restitution claims, by people who missed the deadline of December 31, 1998”.

Also being looked at were “exceptions to the June 1913 cut-off date, to accommodate claims by the descendants of the Khoi and San, as well as heritage sites and historical landmarks”.

Zuma said commercial farmers also needed to be offered better incentives to mentor smallholder farmers.

“Another challenge we have faced is the preference for money instead of land by some claimants, which also does not help us to change land ownership patterns.” - Sapa