South Africa moves to seize land from a white farmer for first time

Associated Press
Published September 23, 2005

PRETORIA, South Africa - South Africa's government is for the first time moving to seize land from a white farmer, saying Thursday that negotiations to buy the property to hand over to black claimants were taking too long.

Blessing Mphela, a land restitution commissioner, said the seizure was a last resort, but he added that land transfers to redress the abuses of the apartheid era must speed up.

The government has repeatedly said it would rely on negotiated sales to shift agricultural land ownership rather than emulate Zimbabwe's seizures of white-owned farms, which many experts say contributed to the collapse of that country's economy.

But Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's policies have made him hugely popular among black South Africans as land transfers lag there. The government accuses white farmers of demanding overly high prices and dragging out sales.

When South Africa's democratic government came to power in 1994, some 87 percent of farm land was owned by whites, who account for just 10 percent of the population. Whites still own about 80 percent, according to some estimates.

Mphela is an official on the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights, which returns land that black and mixed-race families lost during white rule.

Mphela said the government would issue an expropriation order for a 1,235-acre farm owned by Hannes Visser. The government offered $276,000, while Visser sought $473,000.

Visser told the South African Press Association he would challenge the order.

"I do not recognize the claim on my land and cannot be forced to sell at the government's price," Visser said.

Visser said he made about $550,000 worth of improvements to the farm that his father bought in 1968. He said the government's offer was not enough for him to set up a business comparable to the farm.

Mphela said the farm was once part of four parcels owned by the Molamu family, which was forced to sell under the apartheid government's policy of systematically stripping blacks of land and moving them into townships and "homelands." Descendants of the Molamus filed a claim seeking restitution.