Barberton - Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti has urged beneficiaries of land redistribution to use the invaluable asset productively to help them actively participate in the country's mainstream economy.
"... Our message to land claimants is that we know getting your ancestral land back is a great milestone but once we give you the piece of land, you must use it productively to fight poverty and unemployment.
"This government is moving faster in redistributing land to its rightful owners through negotiated settlements with the private sector because the majority of our people want their ancestral land [for farming]... We don't want this timber plantation farmland to become a white elephant.
"As government, our view is that the sustainability of our agricultural sector is the end goal," Nkwinti told BuaNews.
Nkwinti was speaking at a ceremony marking the restoration of 12 503 hectares of land to the Lomshiyo Community outside Barberton in Mpumalanga on Saturday.
Chairperson of the Lomshiyo Community, Mandla Mavuso, has a bright vision and big plans for the land.
"Getting our ancestral land back feels like coming back to life from the dead... we are willing to work with those who have been using this piece of land. We want to keep this farmland productive.
"We are committed to make this piece of land valuable. We will also look at the possibility of turning this area into a tourist attraction destination."
The restored land was part of Shannon Properties -- who have been using it as a timber plantation -- as well as other surrounding farms.
The total number of farms claimed in the area is more than 58 and 90 percent of them are privately owned. The estimated number of beneficiaries is 2 593 and the verified number of households is 485, of which 203 are headed by women.
According to the minister, there are only 16 outstanding land claims in the Free State, while the Eastern Cape has 600 cases. He said the Free State land claims would be finalised in June this year.
Nkwinti was pleased with progress made in the redistribution of land in Mpumalanga. "The Commission on Restitution of Land Rights in this province is achieving its mission of restoring dignity and the land back to its rightful owners."
Government has set a goal of redistributing 30 percent of land to historically disadvantaged communities by 2014, and Nkwinti said much effort was put into the process.
"... By speeding up the process of redistributing land to its rightful owners, we think that we are moving towards achieving that mission."