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SOUTH AFRICA: Land ownership remains racially skewed

Johannesburg, 24 May 2005 (IRIN) - Eleven years into democratic rule, South Africa's white minority population still controls most of the productive agricultural land, government officials acknowledged earlier this week.

The land affairs department told parliament's budget committee that whites still owned about 82 percent of commercial farmland, despite ongoing efforts to get more land into the hands of the black population.

Since the ruling African National Congress party took power in April 1994, an estimated 3.5 million ha of land has been transferred through restitution and redistribution - far short of the 30 percent target they hoped to reach by 2004.

Land rights activists have been quick to point out that the slow pace of reform has been partly due to the 'willing buyer, willing seller' system.

"From the figures we can see that the government's land reform programme is not on track. By now, more land should have been transferred, and although the government has revised the target date to 2015, it is highly unlikely that it will achieve its goal," said Ruth Hall, a land and agrarian researcher at the University of the Western Cape.

Hall explained to IRIN that although the budget for land reform was substantially increased with the assistance of international donors, the additional funding was unlikely to keep up with soaring land prices.

Belgium recently stepped in and approved US $15 million for the "fast-tracking settlement" of restitution claims and post-settlement support.

"The financial commitment to the process is welcomed, but given the rising price of land, especially in areas where it is most needed, the government will find that its land reform budget is inadequate. If land transfer is to be successful it should not just be about offering a fair price to sellers, but also about national development," she commented.

The core challenge was the need for state intervention to make suitable land available to meet local needs, rather than relying wholly on the market and the willingness of current owners to sell.

"This is not to say that there aren't willing sellers, but what we have found is that very often the land that is up for sale is either not productive, or in areas where the need is not critical," Hall pointed out.

Land reform advocates have also claimed that the lack of a "common strategy" to address post-settlement support threatened to undermine the gains made thus far.

"At the moment there isn't a coordinated approach between the various government departments responsible for land reform. While on paper there appears to be a plan in place to assist land claimants, in reality most of these new farmers have never even heard of it," said Marc Wegerif, land policy officer of the Nkuzi Development Association, a land reform NGO.

According to Wegerif, apart from additional resources, an "integrated" approach by government was needed to help newly resettled farmers gain better access to agricultural support.

Theme (s): Economy,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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