South Africa seeks buying rights for land reform

South Africa wants the state to have the first opportunity to buy property entering the market to help speed up the redistribution of white-owned land to blacks, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Whites still own over 90% of commercial farmland in South Africa, more than a decade after the end of apartheid.

President Thabo Mbeki's government is under mounting pressure to erase this legacy of decades of white minority rule and has said it will, where necessary, use legal land seizures to accelerate reforms.

"Opportunities for the acquisition of land are being lost because the state cannot be proactive in purchasing land," said Glen Thomas, director general of the Department of Land Affairs, was quoted as saying in the Afrikaans daily Beeld.

"The amendment will oblige all sellers, inside the state and outside it, to offer their land to the state first," he said.

Officials say high land prices are one of the main obstacles to its reform programme and blame white landowners for demanding exorbitant prices in cases where the state wants to buy back land taken from blacks under apartheid and colonialism.

Thomas said South Africa also hoped to halt a rise in land prices via proposals to limit land ownership and institute a land tax, as it moves towards its goal of giving blacks a third of land by 2014.

In a speech in February marking the opening of parliament, Mbeki promised to speed up land reform, touching on a racially tinged issue.

Land redistribution is seen by the ruling ANC and its largely black constituency as a cornerstone of black majority rule, but for many whites it evokes the spectre of land seizures and agricultural collapse occurring in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

The other plank of the land drive is to give blacks loans to purchase their farms.

The newspaper said Thomas made the remarks on Tuesday to Parliament's portfolio committee on land affairs in Cape Town.

He said a constitutional change may be needed to effect the proposals but did not say by when such laws could be implemented. Land affairs officials could not be immediately reached for comment. - Reuters

Article from: Mail & Guardian Online - www.mg.co.za