South Africa has told white farmers it may seize their properties under the land restitution program if they fail to agree on a selling price within six months.
The program aims to hand back land or offer financial compensation to black people who were forcibly removed from their ancestral homes under apartheid.
It is part of efforts to correct skewed land ownership created under white minority rule.
President Thabo Mbeki’s Government wants 30 per cent of farm land in black hands by 2014.
But the transfer process has been slow, with only around 4 per cent of land transferred by the restitution program so far.
Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana says wrangling with white land-owners over prices is one of the main reasons for the low turnover.
She has given them a strong warning.
“We are now going to negotiate six months—no more, no less,” she said.
“Indeed, we don’t have time to be talking and talking for 10 years . . . because already our people have been waiting.”
“We will no longer waste time negotiating with people who are not committed to transformation.”
South Africa has been quick to dismiss comparisons with neighbouring Zimbabwe, where a similar campaign was frequently marked by violence.
It has vowed to take a more orderly approach to addressing its apartheid and British colonial legacy.
Ms Xingwana’s department has already identified several properties that will be taken over if it cannot reach agreement over prices with the owners, but it is the first time the Government has set a time limit on such talks.
Officials have stressed land will only be seized as a last resort and farmers have the right to appeal against the decision in court.
Land claims are an especially emotive part of the post-apartheid reforms, as they often bring white families who have lived on the land for generations up against black people whose historical ties to the land run even deeper.
So far, 89 per cent of the nearly 80,000 claims that were lodged by the December 1998 cut-off date have been settled.
The Government has set a 2008 deadline to finish the process.
The SA Communist Party on Sunday welcomed the land affairs minister’s decision to do away with the “willing buyer/willing seller” policy in land reform.
“In particular we welcome her commitment to set deadlines to negotiations over price of land under claim, and her commitment to expropriation thereafter. The SACP is looking forward to seeing further progress in this regard,” said the SACP in a statement issued by spokesman Malesela Maleka after its Central Committee meeting in Johannesburg at the weekend.
On Friday, Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana announced in Polokwane, Limpopo, that her department had done away with the “willing buyer/willing seller” policy.
SABC reported that Xingwana said her department would now negotiate for six months only with land owners whose property prices were inflated.
If the negotiations fail, the land will be expropriated in order to reach the settlement target date of December 2008.
Xingwana said expropriation laws existed so the department would no longer “waste time negotiating for five years” with people who were not committed to transformation.
“We are therefore now going to negotiate just for six months, nothing less, nothing more and then expropriation will kick in,” said Xingwana.
The SACP noted “the pent-up crisis around unresolved land restitution claims, and we call for the whole restitution process to be opened up once more, taking into account many communities that never had the opportunity to bring their claims forward, including the millions of victims of forced removals”.
In a wide-ranging statement, the SACP also called for sanctions against Israel, trade and consumer boycotts of Israeli products and for a review of South African diplomatic ties with Israel.
“Whilst the UN Security Council resolution creates the possibility for a desperately needed reprieve for peace and lessens the dangers of a further expansion of the conflict to other countries in the region, it lacks any reference to Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination,” said the SACP.
It said it would “intensify our ongoing solidarity ties with the communist parties of Lebanon, Israel and the people of Palestine”.
The SACP said it would continue to support former Deputy President Jacob Zuma “in a principled and dignified manner” in his upcoming trial relating to allegations of corruption around the arms procurement deal.
“For justice to be done, a speedy resolution to this process is now imperative. The SACP therefore calls for the trial to start without delay, as justice delayed is justice denied.”
The party called for another look at the entire arms procurement package.
It said any indication of corruption should be pursued and there should also be a “comprehensive review” which looked at broader policy and strategic questions.
“How is it possible that our government, which in the mid-1990s was placing so much emphasis on fiscal discipline, could have entered into an enormous multi-billion rand procurement project, whose strategic value, let alone social development impact, seems to be tenuous?
“If, as we are assured, the primary contracts directly driven by government were corruption free, were we naive about the secondary contracts?”
It said mega-projects like the arms deal, the Coega harbour project in the Eastern Cape and the Gautrain should be reassessed as they seemed to have “minimal developmental impact”.
The party said it was still consulting members and allies over key demands in its upcoming Red October campaign over “the need for safe, affordable and accessible public transport”.
It said despite attempts to recapitalise the taxi industry and huge subsidies to buses and trains, public transport had not improved significantly for most people.
“It is time to approach public transport in a fresh and much more dynamic way that includes popular participation by those who are most affected.”
The party said it would continue discussions with its alliance partners the ANC and Cosatu, including debates it had started on “moral values of our new democracy and the corrosive impact of market-place capitalist values”.
It said it would work with Cosatu on organising casual and other marginalised workers.
It said the ANC elections at its 2007 conference were an internal ANC matter so it would not take a position on that.