South African President Jacob Zuma has asked parliament to explain the process it followed in passing a bill allowing state expropriations of land to redress racial disparities in land ownership.
Land is an emotive issue in Africa’s most industrialised country more than two decades after the end of apartheid, with most of the land still in white hands.
Zuma said he needed to clarify how the bill was passed, before deciding whether to sign it into law or refer it back to the legislature, the presidency said in a statement on Tuesday.
“President Zuma received petitions against the signing of the Bill into law from individuals and various organisations,” the presidency said.
In the pipeline since 2008, the bill has been criticized by opposition parties, with some saying it was unconstitutional.
The ruling African National Congress said the bill would tackle injustices imposed during white-minority rule.
The official opposition party, Democratic Alliance, has asked Zuma not to assent to the bill, raising, among other issues, that it does not provide adequate compensation guarantees and that it was open to abuse.
However, experts say the bill will not signal the kind of often violent land grabs that took place in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where white-owned farms were seized by the government for redistribution to landless blacks.
Regulatory uncertainty in the country has worried investors in the key mining and other sectors, amid warnings the country’s credit ratings could be downgraded to “junk” status as the economy teeters on the brink of recession.