The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Maite Nkoana Mashabane, says her department still needs to access 77% of arable land.

The department is also facing challenges processing land claimed by members of Communal Property Associations.

The Minister was speaking during the launch of a Biodiversity Transformation project in Nietverdeint near Zeerust in the North West.

The 9266 hectares of land in Nietverdeint, near Zeerust in the North West, has been restored to four local communities, the Bahuriutshe Boo Moiloa, Sebogodi, Moiloa of Leeuwfontein and the Tshwane people through a land claim process.

The claim was lodged in 1998.

The Rural Development and Land Reform Department spent more than R455 million on the claim. The Bahurutshe communities now have over 9000 hectares for conservation, in partnership with the former farm owner.

The communities and the former farm owner own 20%  of the shares each.

Although the department is encouraging communities to claim their land, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane says about 77% of arable land still needs to be accessed.

“On the first batch of claims, we have gone much more further, but we still need to go far maybe we are making a little bit of progress. But on arable land we still have to access 77% of it which is not on the hands of people who should. As we do so, they need proper training.”

Chairperson of the Malebelele Communal Property Association, Seikalafeng Tlhame, is among the beneficiaries. He believes the project will alleviate poverty and create job opportunities in their area.

“So, currently, we are planning to take ten young people to train in game farming to be rangers, to be trackers, meat inspectors. So, we actually created 12 jobs in the previous month in November. So, they are finishing in December. So, we are planning to absorb four youth permanently in our system.”

Former owner of the Thabana Game Farm, Mike Englezakis, says his wish is to see the project flourishing in future.

“We have to see what we can do for our government; not what the government can do for us. With that in mind, I hope I will be able to bring my grandkids one day and show them what the grand dad built; not to show them a rural and say this is what I built and this is what happened and that is going not going to make me feel better. This is the reason why at the age of 70 and going through this process, to be able to help them and I hope it will succeed.”

Government faces a mammoth task processing about 400 000 new claims by the end of June in 2019. The settlement of new land claims is expected to cost up to R179 billion.