Land reform problems

2008-03-10 00:00

Despite the obvious need for the urgent implementation of land reform policies, the slow pace of change remains a perennial cause of tension. With each passing season, people who claim to have been unjustly dispossessed of their land become more impatient. So, indeed, do many of the farmers who have accepted that they must surrender land and now ask only for a fair deal to be expeditiously made. And, as no substantial progress appears to have been made both parties are becoming increasingly critical of the laxity and tardiness of the government, both politically and administratively.

Here too, however, there are contradictions. Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana was last week quoted as saying that of the 79 000-odd claims lodged before the cut-off date of December 1998, some 74 000 have been settled.

Given the complexities of the matter, that seems an impressive achievement. Are the complaints that recalcitrant landholders are deliberately impeding the process then not justified, along with the grumbles about incompetent and lackadaisical bureaucrats?

Yet the complaints persist and the increasing frustration could become extremely dangerous. Land reform lies at the very core of transformation in this country. No doubt the problems are highly complex. They date back to the earliest colonial settlements (and even earlier according to some analysts); it is approaching 100 years since the infamous Land Act was passed in 1913, and even the generation with direct personal experience of apartheid’s forced removals is moving on.

The government has to ensure that however land is redistributed, agricultural production is not jeopardised, and perhaps where claimants have been off the land for many years and have turned to other livelihoods, a financial grant would be better than an allocation of farm land. The crucial thing, though, is that the rising anxiety and anger must be assuaged with a settlement that will satisfy and hold.

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