Johannesburg, South Africa- South Africa will from next month start large-scale expropriations of land from white farmers after years of compensation negotiations proved unsuccessful, a top official said on Monday.

Tozi Gwanya, South Africa’s chief land-claims commissioner, said the willing-buyer, willing-seller model will no longer apply to land-restitution claims, as many white farmers want more money than the government is prepared to pay.

“There are in excess of 7 000 claims that have been outstanding,” he said, referring to efforts by the government to redress apartheid-era land grabs in which many members of the black majority lost ancestral holdings.

“We have been negotiating with some white farmers for two or three years, especially in four provinces — Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and KwaZulu Natal — and this has to stop,” he said.

“From March, we will begin expropriating land for which negotiations have gone on for that period or more,” he said, explaining that a six-month deadline will be imposed on new cases.

“We cannot wait longer,” said Gwanya.

South Africa in October started the first of its land-expropriation moves, targeting farmer Hannes Visser’s 500ha holding, which was bought by his father in 1968. Visser is contesting the action.

Gwanya’s comments came after President Thabo Mbeki in his State of the Nation address to Parliament last week said the state would review the willing-buyer, willing-seller policy as well as “land-acquisition models and possible manipulation of land prices”.

The government has said the current policy has slowed down its land-reform programme, which is designed to transfer a third of white-owned land to new black farmers by 2014.

Gwanya was keen to dispel any comparisons with neighbouring Zimbabwe.

“We are not talking seizures here because we are willing to pay a price for the land, but it must be a just amount, not inflated sums.”

“Also, the willing-buyer, willing-seller theory does not work because in South African restitution claims, there is only one seller and one buyer — that is, the government, which is working on behalf of people forcibly dispossessed.

“The land in question is not negotiable. More often than not, there is a huge sentimental attachment like ancestors’ graves or something like that.”

Black ownership of land has increased from 13% at the end of apartheid in 1994 to 16%, still well short of targets set by Mbeki’s government.

The willing-buyer, willing-seller principle has been at the core of South Africa’s post-apartheid land drive, guaranteeing that land will be acquired by the state at fair prices and given to landless blacks.

Gwanya estimates that “six million Africans fell victim to the apartheid government’s policy to remove the black spots” and push them away to homelands, but added that less than 10% had filed claims by the December 31 1998 deadline for restitution. — Sapa-AFP


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