Beware of Zimbabwe Style Land Invasions – SA Minister

Speaking to South African media, Gugule Nkwinti, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform accused white farmers here of scuttling the land reform programme by frustrating government’s willing buyer willing seller policy through inflating prices.

He warned South Africa risks sinking into chaos as the patience of new black farmers is running thin as evidenced by sporadic farm invasions.

“If South Africans who own land  don’t recognise the reality on the ground  and can no walk the mind with government in terms of what is proposed right now then in fact they are the ones who will be responsible for creating conditions of chaos which can be worse than what has been witnessed in Zimbabwe,” said Nkwinti.

Africa’s economic giant needs R 75 billion to acquire 80 million hectares of land by 2014 but this target will not be reached as national coffers are running dry as a result of a litany of service delivery issues that needs to be addressed such as a long housing back log, water and electricity deliveries to millions of households.

Nkwinti said the South African government is working on a policy aimed at addressing the land inequalities urging farm owners to be more flexible in land redistribution negotiations.

He said the new policy is about preventing going the disastrous way of distributing land like the one witnessed in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe’s government forcibly took land from previous white owners in chaotic scenes that left many dead since the inception of the programme in 2000.

“This about preventing Zimbabwe,” said Nkwinti.

He did not elaborate on whether his government will consider amending the constitution to enable it to forcibly take land like what happened in their northern neighbours where the government had to pass legislation to change the constitution allowing it to compulsorily acquire land from white farmers.

Nkwinti said just like in Zimbabwe where about 4000 white farmers owned most of the country’s arable land, land in South Africa is concentrated in the hands of a few land owners, most of whom are foreigners.

 “We have a major monopoly of land ownership in South Africa and we must break that monopoly,” said Nkwinti.

Nkwinti earlier this month told parliament that the government was adopting a “use it or lose it” policy to encourage increased production capacity but his weekend comments appear to be a shift towards a more radical policy.

Thousands of poor black South Africans, most of whom still live in abject poverty because of the apartheid era system are waiting for land promised at independence in 1994 and often repeated in campaign speeches by current President Jacob Zuma in his quest for political office last year.

Just like Zimbabwe, South Africa inherited an unjust land ownership system from the apartheid governments which parcelled out all the best farm land to white farmers, leaving blacks to arid land not fit for agricultural purposes. The South African government has in the past said it will not go it the Zimbabwe way and often move quickly to crush land related protests and attempts at invading farms owned by white farmers though it has largely been unable to stop farm murders but this time it appears it is starting to feel the people power.

Farm seizures are blamed for plunging Zimbabwe – once a net exporter of the staple maize grain – into severe food shortages since 2001 after black peasant farmers resettled on former white farms failed to maintain production because the government failed to support them with financial resources, inputs and skills training.