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Zuma: Compensation of land to restore dignity of those evicted

Government compensated six communities for land in the Kruger National Park taken from them under apartheid.

FILE: About 318,000 hectares of land was taken from hundreds families at the Kruger National Park by the government. Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - President Jacob Zuma says the compensation of land will restore the rights and dignity of those who have been dispossessed.

Government today compensated six communities, three from Limpopo and another three from Mpumalanga, for land in the Kruger National Park taken from them under apartheid.

About 318,000 hectares of land was taken from hundreds families at the Kruger National Park by the government.

A total of 17 claims were lodged against the park by locals in 1998.

Zuma says land is paramount to the survival of South Africans.

"From land we derive our existence, our wealth, minerals, food and other essentials. From land we build our homes and without land we cannot exist."

While the president has expressed satisfaction with the financial compensation of land claimants, some say money can never replace the ownership of land.

Zuma highlighted the importance of owning land and acknowledged the game reserve as a national heritage site, but claimant Nelson Mona says he is not happy about the amount due to be paid to them.

He says this is just a lobby by government to get votes.

CONCENTRATION OF LAND OWNERSHIP

"In South Africa you have a concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few people. That is something we have to correct," Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti said before a ceremony in Kruger National Park where Zuma handed over R84 million in compensation to black communities evicted decades ago.

Experts estimate about eight million hectares of farmland have been transferred to black owners since the end of apartheid, eight to 10 percent of the land in white hands in 1994 and only a third of the African National Congress (ANC)'s long-running 30 percent target.

The party has said it will speed up the process with a bill going through Parliament allowing the state to expropriate land without the owner's consent.

Several black communities had land claims on the 2-million hectare Kruger Park because they were removed after the Native Land Act of 1913, which consigned South Africa's black majority to 13 percent of the country's territory.

But the government wants to keep the Kruger, a major tourist draw and home to many animal species, intact, so its policy is to compensate those with claims on it through cash instead of allowing them to resettle in the park's boundaries.

Perry Sambo, a 63-year-old school teacher who is one of the claimants being paid, said his parents had been removed from Kruger before he was born.

"It was very difficult. Transport was very scarce and they did not get any assistance in what they wanted to carry. And some of their belongings they had to leave because they could not carry everything. They lost also cattle on the way that were eaten by lions," he told Reuters.

LIMIT FARM SIZES TO SPEED LAND REDISTRIBUTION

At the same time, government is planning to impose limits on farm sizes to free up parcels of land to hand over to blacks, a minister said on Saturday, giving an insight into the workings of a divisive redistribution scheme.

Nkwinti told Reuters the government was planning to set a range of limits from a 1,000-hectare "small-scale" farm, up to the largest allowed, at 12,000 hectares.

"If you are a small-scale farm and have 1,400 HA, we will buy the 400, and leave you with your 1,000. We will buy the extra and redistribute it to black people," the minister said.

The ANC, facing local elections in August, has promised to speed up plans to redistribute land which remains predominantly in white hands two decades after the end of apartheid.

Some economists and farming groups have said the proposals could hit investment and production at a time when South Africa is emerging from a major drought, pointing to the economic damage linked to farm seizures in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

They have also complained about a lack of clarity on how it will all work.

Setting out the farm size limits and specifically linking them to the redistribution scheme may further alarm owners, particularly of smaller plots.t the government says the redistribution process needs to be accelerated, to rectify past wrongs and provide opportunities to the previously excluded, and has repeatedly said it will stick to the law and not follow Zimbabwe's example.

Additional reporting by Reuters.