RURAL Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti on Friday provided some details of far-reaching changes to the land tenure system, which will include a ban on foreign ownership of land and the breaking up of white farms considered too large.

The changes are intended to accelerate land reform, which has been far slower than the government has hoped. The target is to redistribute 30% of the land to black owners by 2014.

So far, a little more than 4-million hectares of 82-million hectares — or about 5% — of farmland have been redistributed through the land reform programme. This excludes the equivalent of land that would have been transferred had restitution beneficiaries not chosen financial compensation.

Mr Nkwinti, who was briefing journalists in Parliament, said the ban would apply only to agricultural land, which foreigners "would not be able to own, but can lease". Leases would be for a minimum of 30 years, he said.

The ban would also not apply to permanent residents, who would be entitled to "freehold with limited extent". Limited extent means that in the future a maximum size will be set for farms. An owner whose landholding is above this will have the rest of their farm expropriated and sold by the state to black owners, Mr Nkwinti said.

He said his department would establish the maximum farm sizes for large-scale, medium-size and small-scale farmers.

The objective of limiting freehold rights was to "break up the concentration of ownership" in the agricultural sector, he said. There are 37,000 commercial farmers in South Africa, most of whom are white. "That is too concentrated. We need to break that monopoly," he said after the briefing.

The reformed land tenure system would comprise four options: state and public land, which could be leased; private land, on which there would be freehold with limited extent; foreign leasehold; and communal tenure with institutionalised land rights.

Mr Nkwinti reiterated President Jacob Zuma’s comments in his state of the nation speech that the land claims process would be reopened for those who had not claimed and some exceptions would be made to the 1913 cut-off date to allow the descendants of people who lost their land prior to this to apply for restitution.