The government plans to settle 1 151 land claims at a cost of R2 billion in the current financial year, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said. Picture: AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam

Parliament - The South African government plans to settle 1 151 land claims at a cost of R2 billion in the current financial year, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said in her budget policy speech on Friday.

"In the 2018/19 financial year, we intend to settle 1,151 land claims at a cost of R2 billion. We will also prioritise post settlement support on restituted farms, R700 million has been set aside for this purpose," Nkoana-Mashabane told MPs.

She said the investment will be coupled with greater efforts to remove the traditional barriers that have hindered new black land owners from becoming successful farmers.

"In this financial year we will pursue aggressively the strengthening of integrated development to ensure that land access yields broader economic spin-offs. There are systemic challenges which form barriers to the progress of our land reform beneficiaries. To support black farmers, preferential allocation of water rights, infrastructure provision and access to markets will be intensified. These gaps must be closed."

The budget policy speech comes amid political contestation of the African National Congress government's plans to amend the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation.

The minister said in the meanwhile her department would make full use of existing laws to speed up land restitution, as a means of bringing economic empowerment to the black majority. She deplored the slow pace of land restitution since the advent of democracy in 1994, saying though the private land audit was in an early phase, it had to recognised that black South Africans still only owed four percent of land.

"However, as South Africans, we must accept that even without the finer details that will come forth from this phase of the audit, since 1995 only 10, 2% of 82 million hectares of agricultural land has been redistributed."

She said the spate of land occupations seen across the country was an indication as frustration with exclusion from land ownership, and inflated prices hindered the process of redistribution.

This drew an angry objection from Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald. He said the fact was that the vast majority of beneficiaries of land restitution opted for cash payouts instead of land, which meant that the state paid double in these cases.

"In 93 percent of cases, the beneficiaries did not want the land, they want the money... The government buys the land, the government has to take another R5 million to pay the beneficiaries... this is taxpayer's money," he said.

"That is the distortion of prices."

Groenewald accused the government of misleading the country when it said introducing expropriation without compensation would speed up land reform. He asked why the state did not simply transfer the 4,000 farms it owned to would-be farmers.

"The state currently owns 4 000 farms, why don't they give that to the people? You exploit the feelings of the people to conceal your own incompetence. You mislead the people when you say expropriation without compensation will speed up land reform."

President Cyril Ramaphosa has signalled that he planned to implement the ANC's policy decision to change the law to allow expropriation without compensation, casting it as part of a drive to stimulate the agriculture sector

African News Agency/ANA