CAPE TOWN - The government was "obsessed" with achieving the redistribution of 30% of agricultural land from white to black hands because failure to address skewed land ownership patterns would result in polarisation and calamity, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said yesterday.

His statement comes at a time when the government is reviewing the deadline of 30% redistribution by 2014, in light of reduced funding arising from the global economic crisis and the domestic recession.

Addressing a media briefing on progress made in the government's programme of action, Nkwinti, in response to a question, said the aim was to achieve the 30% target by 2014, but "current circumstances mitigate against this . and so the deadline is being reviewed".

Also up for review is the principle of willing buyer and willing seller. Nkwinti said that when the government was the buyer of property, the price doubled or trebled as landowners held the government in a "stranglehold". The willing buyer, willing seller principle was not working.

He said that while there was a shortage of funds, no moratorium had been placed on land-reform transactions and, to this end, his new department had established a "trading unit" that would drive the process of acquisition. It would also have the critical task of ensuring that where a "going concern" or a working farm was transferred, it remained a going concern and did not fall into disuse.

When asked why the government appeared obsessed with the 30% target when agriculture was so small a portion of the economy and maintaining food security was more important, Nkwinti said the government was obsessed with getting the balance of land ownership right because of the polarisation that failure would cause. If left as it was, it would lead to calamity, he said, and even the target of 30% was not enough to deflect this polarisation.

hartleyw@bdfm.co.za