South Africa's Zulu king, civil rights group to form farming partnership

(Corrects headline in Oct. 9 story to show AfriForum is a civil rights group, and clarifies the group’s mandate in the sixth paragraph.)

FILE PHOTO: Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini leaves a meeting in Durban, South Africa, April 20, 2015. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File Photo

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s Zulu king and civil rights group AfriForum are forming a partnership to develop the agriculture on vast swathes of land the monarch controls through a trust, AfriForum’s CEO said on Tuesday.

The move comes as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) takes steps to change the constitution to expropriate land without compensation while also seeking to provide security of tenure to people living on royal tribal lands - policies opposed by AfriForum and the king.

“We are finalizing a memorandum of understanding to make the agreement formal,” AfriForum Chief Executive Kallie Kriel told Reuters.

King Goodwill Zwelithini controls 2.8 million hectares, a fragmented sub-tropical area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust.

“We have numerous members that have successful farms in the vicinity of the trust. The idea is to get a formula where there can be cooperation between our members and people living on the trust land to stimulate agricultural development,” Kriel said.

Much of the farming in those areas is focused on sugar, cattle, game and high-value fruit such as avocados. AfriForum is generally a group that focuses on the cultural and minority rights of white Afrikaners.

The eNCA news channel’s website on Tuesday quoted the king as saying: “I’m asking AfriForum ... to come and help us. They are willing to work with me and my father’s people to uplift agriculture in our land.”

The monarch, who wields influence over millions of rural voters, reiterated his warnings to the ANC not to include his territory in its land reform drive.

“Anyone who wants to be elected by us must come and kneel here and commit that I will never touch your land,” he said.

The king said over the weekend he wanted President Cyril Ramaphosa to sign an agreement backing a pledge earlier this year not to expropriate trust land or change property relationships there.

Other traditional leaders have also told the ANC not to undermine their authority on the 13 percent of South African territory they rule. Much of it straddles rich deposits of platinum and other minerals.

Such leaders see themselves as the custodians of culture and traditions but critics say some have enriched themselves through their control of access to resources.

The ANC’s main target is white-owned property. Most private South African land remains in white hands, making it a potent symbol of wider economic disparities.

Editing by Ed Osmond