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New S. African law to ban foreigners from owning land

South African President Jacob Zuma has proposed a law barring foreigners from buying real estate in the country under sweeping land reforms, his office said Saturday.

In future, foreigners — who currently own some five to seven percent of South Africa’s land — would be allowed only to lease property for between 30 and 50 years, and may be required to cede land considered “strategic”.

Zuma’s cabinet must approve the proposed legislation, after which it will be put to public consultation and a parliamentary review before the president can enact it, his office said in a statement.

The law will limit land ownership for “any individual” to 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) per person, the statement said, adding that the government would purchase and “redistribute” any land in excess of the limit.

The legislation was the subject of a campaign promise ahead of Zuma’s re-election in 2014.

The law cannot be applied retroactively for constitutional reasons, but the president’s office said it could be invoked “if the land is deemed strategic.”

It adds that “environmentally and security sensitive lands as well as those that are of historic and have cultural significance, and strategic lands (for land reform and socio-economic development) will be classified by law, and land ownership by foreign nationals (non-citizens) in these areas will be discouraged,” the statement said.

The reform is aimed at addressing “the need to secure our limited land for food security and address the land injustice of more than 300 years of colonialism and apartheid,” the statement said.

A 1913 law gave non-white residents access to only 10 percent of the country’s farmland, which was subsequently revised upward to 13 percent. The rule put in place a system that still sees a majority of the best land in white hands.

Hundreds of thousands of blacks were expelled from their lands in a system that was reinforced after 1948 under apartheid.

White South Africans — around 10 percent of the population — still own as much as 80 percent of the land 20 years after the end of apartheid.

The government last year relaunched a claims process for black families removed from their land under apartheid rule to apply for compensation.

They were given five years from June 2014 to make their claims, with as many as 400,000 requests for compensation expected at a cost of between 130 and 180 billion rand ($12-17 billion, 9-12 billion euros).

Zuma said in a state of the nation address on Thursday that more than 36,000 claims had been submitted so far.