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S.African behind on land restitution: minister

Published on 07/06/2011

South Africa will miss its 2011 target to finalise restitution claims lodged by blacks forced off their land by the former white minority regime, the land minister said Tuesday.

“It is clear that this thing is not going to be over soon,” Gugile Nkwinti told journalists, citing a lack of funds.

The land restitution programme was launched after the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994, but completion deadlines have been extended several times.

“The land ministry will seek more funds to top up the two billion rand ($298 million, 203 million euros) allocated for land claims this year,” said Nkwinti.

“We are going to engage (the) treasury on this,” he added.

Restitution is part of the state’s land reform programme, different to a redistribution initiative to hand white-owned farms to blacks in a bid to change one of apartheid’s most visible legacies.

Under the restitution process, the government returns title deeds or gives monetary compensation to people forced off their land after divisive laws were introduced from 1913 that determined which race groups could own land where, forcing many to move.

Those affected had until December 31, 1998 to lodge claims. To date, 74,808 out of 79,696 claims have been settled. A previous 2005 deadline had been extended to this year.

“Restitution is more emotional than the ordinary redistribution of land because there is an attachment to that emotional moment when people were removed forcibly,” said Nkwinti.

The government is being lobbied to reopen the deadline for lodging restitution claims.

The minister has repeatedly said South Africa does not have the estimated 40 billion rand needed to transfer 30 percent of the 82 million hectares (202 acres) of arable land left in white hands after apartheid ended.

The country’s farm redistribution policy is also ailing, with 90 percent of projects unproductive, leaving the government way short of its target to transfer a third of white-owned farms to black owners by 2014.

A much anticipated new land reform strategy, expected to propose limits on foreign ownership, has yet to be unveiled after repeated delays.