Government has put its money where its mouth is on land restitution and redistribution, by allocating more than 50% of the department of rural development & land reform’s budget to the two functions.

While ANC policy advocating expropriation of land without compensation is still a long way from becoming government policy, finance minister Malusi Gigaba’s budget address suggested efforts were being made to address it.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has already indicated that the policy needs to be located within a "broad and comprehensive land redistribution and agricultural development programme".

To this end, the department intends to accelerate finalisation of 2,851 land restitution claims over the next three years by allocating R10.8bn. A further R8.8bn will be allocated for land redistribution. The department’s total budget is R31bn.

Theo Boshoff, legal intelligence manager at Agbiz, says that even if expropriation were already government policy, large sums of money would still be needed to accommodate those claimants who prefer financial compensation to actual land transfer.

Government also intends to acquire about 290,000ha of "strategically located land" for farming initiatives at a cost of R4.2bn.

Boshoff, however, warns that it is too soon to tell if the department will spend the funds exclusively on land acquisition and not channel it towards other activities, as it has often done in the past.

"I think one of the more important aspects is that when the department spends the money, how it will do so. A panel report recorded that a significant amount of budget for land acquisition has been directed to other functions in the department," he says.

Gigaba told parliament land reform had become urgent.

In an effort to strengthen the agricultural sector’s global market access, government has allocated R40m to upgrading infrastructure and equipment for analytic services laboratories.

"This will provide assurance to global trading partners that SA agricultural products meet internationally recognised standards for human safety, thereby facilitating our ability to export unhindered," Gigaba said.

The funds were located in the R7.8bn budget of the department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries.

The department also plans to create and support 450 "sustainable and profitable" black commercial farmers over the next five years.

"An estimated R581.7m is expected to be reprioritised for the black producer commercialisation programme. By creating opportunities for black agricultural producers, we are radically transforming the agricultural sector of our economy," Gigaba said.

The Afrikanerbond interest group warns that the initiatives could destabilise the country and create uncertainty.

Chairman Jaco Schoeman says that too much time, energy and scarce funds are being spent on idealistic dreams and ideologies.

"Unfortunately, the dream of a new dawn by a president who inspires hope can quickly become a nightmare if land ownership and property rights are played like a chess game, using either only white or only black chess pieces," he says.

"The success of the game lies in using all the pieces, black and white, with great ingenuity and insight, not in misrepresentations and false perceptions."

Schoeman’s sentiments appear to ignore guarantees by Ramaphosa that the land reform process will be handled in a meticulous way that will avoid "smash-and-grab" state interventions.

Wessel Lemmer, senior agricultural economist at Absa AgriBusiness, commends Gigaba’s decision to earmark funds for black producer commercialisation.

"The announcement of an estimated R581.7m earmarked for the programme is most welcome," he says.

"This will go a long way to boosting efforts to transform the agricultural sector of our economy."

He adds that government’s provision to purchase agricultural land needs to be implemented efficiently in order to make use of the R4.8bn allocated "within the willing-buyer/willing-seller market framework".

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