Julius Malema on the far left in blue shirt, on his farm in polokwane, his cattle have just arrived from the fld grazzing.. Picture: Mujahid Safodien 22 January 2012

KwaZulu-Natal - Land ownership targets were to blame for the country’s failed land reform programme, and 25 percent of the national department of agriculture’s budget this year was being spent on recapitalising 595 claimed farms, the national Minister for Agriculture, Gugile Nkwinti, said in Durban on Thursday night. This amounted to R900 million.

The land ownership target did not consider national food security, he warned.

Nkwinti said the agriculture department’s spending focus had shifted to rehabilitating collapsed farms handed to claimants since 1994.

The minister was in the province at the invitation of the South African Sugar Association, which took the opportunity to showcase successful sugar cane land reform projects in the province.

The “obsession” with reaching land ownership targets was at the root of the land claim bungling, he said. The situation was labelled a “national disaster” last year by KZN’s agriculture body, Kwanalu.

At the time, Kwanalu said the government had found that almost 100 percent of farms handed to land claimants since 1994 were lying fallow, and that the 2014 target would not be met.

The target, which stipulated that 30 percent of commercial farms had to be redistributed to previously disadvantaged South Africans by 2014, was to blame for the problems experienced in the land restitution process, the minister said.

“What were the assumptions underlying this target? I don’t know. That target is the reason why we have the problems in land reform. This obsession with 30 percent by 2014 does not speak to food security at all. We have wasted a lot of money chasing this thing,” he said.

“As the budget baseline increases, so will the amount of money we are able to spend. This year we are spending R1.7 billion on 416 farms. We have to balance acquisition with development,” he said.

The association released its land reform scoresheet at the annual industry function which was held in Sibaya Casino’s iZulu theatre.

While 130 000 hectares out of a total of 336 000 hectares under sugar cane were still wrapped up in unresolved land claims, over 70 000 hectares of free, leasehold and land reform hectares were successfully under the control of previously disadvantaged sugar cane farmers.

This was an increase from five percent in 1994 to 21 percent now.

Association chairman Bongani Linda called on the agriculture department to support the industry’s move to migrate leasehold farms under the Principle of Strategic Acquisition of Land to freehold ownership to ensure “proven” small-scale growers were afforded land ownership.

He said the association now had a database of those farmers who were eligible for graduation to bigger operations. Currently the principle only allows leasehold for a limited period.

Also, the industry is funding 147 projects on 6 551 hectares aimed at rehabilitating failed land claim sugar cane farms.

While Nkwinti hailed the sugar industry’s recapitalisation of the farms as an example the rest of the country could follow, he also announced that the land reform green paper, in respect of which the deadline for the final working group’s report was Friday, was now “ready for cabinet”. - The Mercury