Land reform’s deadline struggles

Staff constraints have been one reason for the delay of the completion of the national land audit, now due by the end of July. Denene Erasmus reports.

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Under the leadership of land reform minister, Gugile Nkwinti, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) missed a number of self-imposed deadlines before publishing the Green Paper on Land Reform in August last year. More recently, the department missed another deadline by failing to complete the long-anticipated national land audit. In March, Nkwinti told journalists at a press conference in Cape Town that government intended to complete the land audit by the end of June.

At the time, Nkwinti indicated that the department had originally hoped to complete the land audit by the end of March, but due to the intricate nature of the project, the deadline had been moved to June. However, at the end of June, during the
ANC’s national policy conference in Midrand, Johannesburg, agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said that the land audit would be completed by the end of the year. She added that the scope of the audit would be extended to include foreign land ownership.

The minister referred Farmer’s Weekly’s enquiries on the matter to the land reform department. Her spokesperson, Palesa Mokomele, told Farmer’s Weekly that while Joemat-Pettersson had commented on progress made with the national land audit as a member of the party’s national executive and transformation committees, she had not taken over the functions of land reform. These remained the domain of Nkwinti’s office.

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A statement issued by Athol Trollip, DA MP and the party’s spokesperson for land reform, said that the delay was causing unnecessary confusion and paralysis in the crucial national issue of land reform. “Moving the goal posts yet again is an indication of a lack of departmental capacity and political will on the part of the ruling party to actually do the audit,” he said.
Trollip argued that it was not in the interests of the DRDLR to complete the audit prior to the centenary commemoration of the 1913 Land Act next year.

“Stirring up emotion is much easier when you have scapegoats to blame,” he said. But, according to the land reform department, the deadline has been extended by only one month. The DRDLR told Farmer’s Weekly that the deadline had not been moved to December as Joemat-Pettersson had said, but to the end of this month. “The department has to date completed 91% of the project (the land audit) with the balance intended to be completed by the end of July,” said Mphathi Sehloho, spokesperson for the department.

The DRDLR indicated that some of the project challenges were related to capacity constraints. It has increased the number of personnel working on the project from about 200 to 400 people. The department stated that the project focused on verifying the amount and location of registered state land, not privately owned land or land owned by foreigners, as Joemat-Pettersson suggested. “Field work focuses solely on state land and does not include privately owned land,” said Sehloho.

In a separate response, ministerial spokesperson for Nkwinti, Mthobeli Mxotwa, explained that the “task of auditing land ownership is an onerous one because there have been no formal land registrations since 1652”. During a parliamentary meeting earlier this year, the director-general of the DRDLR, Mdu Shabane, admitted that the department was having difficulties completing the land audit.

He pointed to the fact that the state had no record of how much land was owned by black commercial farmers, because, in terms of the Constitution, the deeds office was not obliged to record the race of landowners. “Once the land reform institutions proposed in the Green Paper on Land Reform, such as the Land Management Commission (LMC), Land Rights Management Board and the Valuer-General’s office are up and running, this problem will be a thing of the past,” said Mxotwa. “The LMC will specifically be responsible for the registration of land ownership,” he said.