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October : Funding cuts to slow land redistribution to a crawl

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30 October, 2013

Funding cuts to slow land redistribution to a crawl

by Carol Paton, Business Day, 28 October 2013, 06:14

LAND redistribution and restitution, already painfully slow, are set to slow further after receiving funding cuts in last week's medium-term budget policy statement.

The slow pace of land reform has been a major concern for the African National Congress as reversing apartheid land dispossession is a central plank of its policy platform. Initial targets were for the redistribution of 30% of land by next year, but a lack of funding and a high failure rate of projects have resulted in the redistribution of a little over 5% of farmland so far.

The revisions released by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan include a R500m cut to the land reform budget as well internal shifting of funds between programmes.

The result is a R600m loss to the budget for buying land for black farmers and a R470m drop in the funds available for restitution.

The University of the Western Cape's Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies' Ruth Hall said the cuts meant the budget for land reform and rural development was, in real terms, at its lowest in three years.

"Overall the budget has dropped back to about the level of last year's budget, reversing the increased allocation at the start of this year. The budget is lower than it has been in three years and, in real terms, lower than at any time under the Zuma administration," Prof Hall said.

Ministry of Rural Development and Land Reform spokesman Mthobeli Mxotwa said the cuts would further slow land reform programmes. "Land reform will slow down and restitution will slow down.

"We are going to reduce the tempo with the exception of programmes aimed at the revival of depressed land reform farms. There we will do more to recapitalise and develop them," he said.

The department's Recapitalisation and Development Programme, which requires black farmers to acquire established commercial partners to access state support, will benefit from a reprioritisation of funds from other programmes.

The cut of almost half-a-billion rand to the restitution budget - which funds compensation for land claims - comes less than a year after President Jacob Zuma announced the reopening of land claims for those who had missed the deadline to apply.

It was also implied by Mr Zuma at the time that claims would be opened to those dispossessed prior to 1913, in particular the Khoi and the San. However, this has proven "constitutionally not possible".

With fewer resources now available for restitution, Prof Hall said "reality and political rhetoric were moving in different directions".

While Mr Gordhan made much of the fact that spending as a whole would continue to grow at 2.2% in real terms in last week's policy statement, of the R21.6bn that was added to spending baselines, R17.4bn - 80% - was allocated to improve pay for public servants, an indication that wage costs are crowding out other spending.

Academics and rights lobby groups have also begun to raise concerns about aspects of the re-opening of land claims. It is feared that the re-opening of claims could lead to the dispossession of communities who have made successful claims but are not yet in possession of their title deeds.