S.Africa's Zuma transfers key white-owned land ahead of vote
South African President Jacob Zuma Thursday handed over 13,184 hectares (35,580 acres) of a previously white-owned farm to black communities as part of the country's land reform programme, ahead of elections this year.
The state paid almost one billion rand ($92.5 million/68 million euros) for the land located in the eastern Mpumalanga province, which is seen as one of the most expensive deals since the inception of the programme nearly two decades ago.
"After lengthy negotiations, the legal representatives of the land owners considered a settlement amount of 939,360,000 million (rand)...for the purchase of the land in respect of the 13,184 hectares," said Zuma during a handover ceremony to the rural N'wandlamhlarhi Community Property Association.
The farm is also home to one of the country's luxury game reserve, Mala Mala.
The deal is likely to boost Zuma's support ahead of the elections which will likely be held in April. Land reform is one of most contentious issues faced by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The programme has been dogged by delays with only six percent of land having been transferred to blacks since 1994, fuelling frustrations among the dispossessed.
A bill proposing the extension of land claims to the end of 2018 is set to be tabled in parliament.
"The restoration of land to rightful owners is one of the biggest responsibilities you gave the democratic government," said Zuma.
The former owners would continue running the property at a monthly rental fee until January next year while transferring business skills to the new owners.
Last year, South Africa marked 100 years since a white-minority government passed a law that forced black people off the majority of the land.
The government has admitted that it would miss its target to redistribute 30 percent of white-owned land to blacks by 2014, due to the slow pace of the programme.
"We made a lot of progress, but the work continues," said Zuma.
White South Africans -- around 10 percent of the population -- still own as much as 80 percent of the land.
However, the Land Access Movement, a lobby group for the landless, which is unhappy at the pace of land reforms, slammed the deal as a bid to "popularise" the ANC ahead of elections.
"I think they are trying to show people that they are committed on land reform," the group's leader Constance Mogale said.
© 2014 AFP