Zuma steps up South African Land Reform rhetoric

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa must intensify efforts to transfer farmland to blacks if it is to end crippling poverty among rural communities, ruling ANC leader Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday.

After the fall of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress-led government set itself a target of handing 30 percent of all agricultural land to the black majority by 2014.

So far, however, it has only acquired 4 percent of land from private owners for redistribution, and says it needs to accelerate the process. Thousands of poor blacks are still waiting for farms promised to them by the ANC, which sees land redistribution as a cornerstone of black majority rule.

"We would not be transforming our country if we do not end the marginalisation of rural areas. That is why we will work to intensify our land reform programme," Zuma said in a speech at a metal workers union conference.

Land restitution is a sensitive issue in South Africa, troubled by the decline in agriculture in neighbouring Zimbabwe where white commercial farmers were often violently evicted by President Robert Mugabe’s government.

Pretoria has vowed that its own version of this programme will be orderly.

Zuma said the land reform programme should be expanded beyond simply handing land to blacks, to include the development of rural areas.

"Land acquisition should be linked to clear rural development programmes, which will include infrastructure development to produce thriving rural economies and ensure sustainable development," Zuma said.

The ANC president has previously criticised South Africa’s land reform programme for failing to curb rural poverty.

While there have been a few stories of successful black farmers, agriculture industry officials say many are given insufficient training, which hurts output when they are left in charge of once-productive land.