South Africa is ready to order its first expropriation of white-owned farms and has identified 355 properties it may seize if price talks with farmers fail, a senior land official said on Friday.
Chief Land Claims Commissioner Tozi Gwanya said the government was determined to speed land reform and that expropriations—with farmers compelled to accept government payment for their land—now seemed almost inevitable.
“We have achieved a lot through negotiations, but the farmers are abusing this process by dragging it out,” Gwanya said in an interview.
“We are saying this cannot go on forever. Within six months if we don’t have agreement we will be taking the next step.”
Gwanya said that process was already under way for the first farm targeted near Lichtenberg in North West Province, with officials drawing up an expropriation submission for the land affairs department.
“That should be done by early next week,” he said, adding years of talks had failed to bridge the huge gap between the price the farmer demanded and that which the government was willing to pay.
South Africa can expropriate white-owned farms without a court order under laws aimed at returning land to black communities or individuals dispossessed under decades of apartheid and white colonial rule.
But the government, wary of fanning fears of a chaotic Zimbabwe-style land grab, has so far concentrated on a willing-buyer, willing-seller approach with farmers persuaded to accept the government’s purchase offer.
Critics say this approach has dramatically slowed the redistribution of land in South Africa, where more than a decade after the end of apartheid much of the best farmland remains in the hands of the white minority.
This year President Thabo Mbeki identified land reform as a government priority, signalling a tougher line in order to meet a goal of settling all outstanding land claims by March 2008.
Gwanya said negotiations were still under way over the 355 farms identified nationwide as the first candidates for expropriation, and the government hoped to reach sale agreements in most cases.
“Some of these farmers are willing to be part of the future, they are willing to be strategic partners and support the new land owners,” he said.
But he added that many other landowners remained reluctant, and in these cases the expropriation process could begin within the next six months.
“We will give them letters of notice of expropriation and tell them this is what we are going to do if you don’t reach a price agreement.
After that notice they will be given 30 days in which they put their case to us . . . if we are not satisfied we will then send a final letter saying we are taking the land at a certain price.”
Gwanya said the government’s price offer was based on independent valuation of the property, but that farmers using their own valuers often came up with prices twice as high in an effort to thwart the process.
South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, wants to put 30 percent of farm land in black hands by 2014 but so far the government has reached just under 4 percent of its target.
Critics say that along with moving too slowly, the land reform programme has neglected to provide new black farmers with sufficient training or support—sometimes resulting in sharp drops in production following land transfer.