A decision to expropriate white-owned land if negotiations linger or end in deadlock is paying off with more and more farmers agreeing to the price offered by the government, a top land official said yesterday.
"These farmers have become more supportive because we are cracking the whip," Tozi Gwanya, chief land claims commissioner, said in an interview.
Gwanya said a decision to issue expropriation notices to farmers if negotiations on the price or title deeds exceeded six months had helped speed up the land reform program.
The program is aimed at handing over nearly a third of white-owned land to new black farmers by 2014 to redress the injustices of apartheid.
"They are coming round to the table and there has been a very good response in [the northern province of] Mpumalanga, where 70 farms in the Tevubu area were identified for expropriation," Gwanya said.
"Of them 40 farmers agreed to our price at the last minute," he said.
Gwanya said that another 90 farmers in the northeastern province of Limpopoe had done an 11th hour about-turn out of the 200 who were faced with expropriation notices.
Gwanya had in February said that a six-month deadline would be imposed on new land claims cases or if talks dragged on, resulting in an impasse.
He said South Africa's new Lands Minister Lulu Xingwana was fed up with the slow pace of the land reforms.
"The minister has given us instructions that once we have agreed on the valuation made by an independent valuer and offer it to the land owner, we must not take more than six months to conclude the deal," he said.
"If we cannot reach agreement in six months, we must initiate the expropriation process," which could take up to another six months, he said.
Gwanya added that there were 6,969 rural land claims which had to be settled before a December 2008 deadline.
South Africa is keen to finalize its lands claims and to assure foreign investors it would not follow the same path as its neighbor Zimbabwe, which was plunged into crisis when white farms were seized and given to landless blacks.
Black ownership of land has increased from 13 percent at the end of apartheid in 1994 to 16 percent. However, it still falls well short of targets set by the administration of President Thabo Mbeki.