President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma says restoration of land to rightful owners was one of the biggest responsibilities given to the democratic government.
Zuma was speaking at the official hand over of land which comprises the Mala Mala Game Reserve to members of the N’wandlamhlarhi Community Property Association in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga on Thursday.
“We are very happy that this claim has been concluded and that land is being handed over today. The restoration of land to rightful owners is one of the biggest responsibilities you gave the democratic government.
“We have made a lot of progress, but work still continues. I am pleased to note that the current landowners of the Mala Mala land have accepted the validity of the claim and have not declared any dispute about the merits of the claim,” he said.
However there were those who sought to challenge claims to land despite the validity of these claims, he said.
The Mhlanganisweni Community land claim was first lodged by more than 20 others in their respective capacity as individuals and representatives of their own communities.
The claimants currently fall within the jurisdiction of two tribal authorities of Ama-Shangane and Jongilanga Traditional Authorities.
The actual number of households and the overall total number of beneficiaries to this restitution project on properties owned by Mala Mala Game Ranch (Pty) Ltd is estimated to be 960 and 5 760 beneficiaries.
The claimed land falls within the Bushbuckridge Municipality in Ehlanzeni District, one of the prioritised districts by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform due to the high levels of poverty.
The claimed land includes the Mala Mala Game Reserve, which is currently operating as an internationally renowned game farm and ecotourism destination.
Negotiations for the settlement of the claim on the land comprising the Mala Mala Game Reserve began in earnest in May 2008 when an initial formal offer was made for the acquisition of the 12 855 hectares.
“As the Mala Mala claimants you lodged claims against twenty one (21) properties consisting of 63 portions, measuring 65,000 hectares as the total extent.
“After lengthy negotiations, the legal representatives of the land owners considered a settlement amount of R 939,360,000, close to a billion rand for the purchase of the land in respect of the 13,184 hectares. These properties are fully utilised as game land,” he said.
Zuma said he was aware that the majority of claimants are currently living in and around the Lillydale area which is bordering the claimed land.
The conditions were less than favourable as there was inadequate infrastructure development, and most of the households lived in abject poverty.
There President said while there were also high levels of unemployment, the success of this claim therefore brings hope to the community.
“I have noted that there have been further developments which include that an agreement was reached in which the Mala Mala Game Reserve owners will be allowed a transitional period that will expire on the 31 January 2015 which provides for a monthly occupational rental amount of R700 000, in order to allow enough time on the second phase negotiations around the co-management agreement.
“They have committed to contribute all movable assets needed to run the business, as well as goodwill and the company brand estimated to be valued at R38 million, as part of their commitment to the co-management as current business owners.”
In terms of finalising the remaining Sabie Sand Land Claim against the other outstanding 51 816 ha of land is expedited, said Zuma – SAnews.gov.za