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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's government will introduce a new draft policy on land tenure this year aimed at speeding up its programme to give land to landless blacks, a government minister said on Monday.
Rural Development and Land Affairs Minister Gugile Nkwinti said his department was working on a policy framework that would set out how the government should go about reversing inequalities in land ownership between blacks and whites.
"We are going to present to parliament, very soon, a green paper ... where we open the debate about reviewing the whole land tenure system in South Africa ... that's the elephant in the room," Nkwinti told journalists.
"We must open the debate ... on the 87-13 percent split in land ownership in South Africa," Nkwinti said.
The white minority holds 87 of commercial farm land while blacks only own 13 percent, Nkwinti said.
He said the green paper, which would be used as a framework for future legislation, was 90 percent complete and would be taken to cabinet before the end of March, before going to parliament for approval.
"We are looking at finalising the whole process... (by) 31 March 2012," he said.
Land reform is a racially sensitive issue in South Africa, troubled by the decline in agriculture in neighbouring Zimbabwe where white farmers have often been forcibly evicted by President Robert Mugabe's government.
After the fall of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress-led government set itself a target of handing over 30 percent of commercial farmland to the black majority by 2014.
However, the huge cost of acquiring land -- estimated at 75 billion rand for 82 million hectares of land -- as well as problems in negotiating land prices with owners under a "willing-buyer, willing-seller" policy have prompted the government to rethink its ambitious programme.
The government said last year it planned to resubmit a bill to parliament that would allow it to seize land from farmers if negotiations to buy the land from them failed.
The expropriation bill was submitted to parliament in 2008 as part of efforts to speed up the land reform programme, but it was put on hold after opposition parties, farmers' bodies and other civic groups protested, arguing it was unconstitutional.
Nkwinti said the proposed Expropriation Act was being reworked by the Department of Public Works in conjunction with his ministry and would be tabled in parliament later this year.