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U.S. diplomat urges transparent land reform in South Africa

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said on Friday that South Africa should be transparent about land reform so as not to hurt the economy, adding that the issue had not been covered in the United States with the “necessary perspective”.

U.S President Donald Trump waded into South Africa’s high-octane land debate last year by sending a late-night tweet in which he said he had asked his secretary of state to study “land and farm seizures” in South Africa.

Those comments weakened the rand and enraged South African officials.

At the time of Trump’s tweet the government had not seized land from farmers, despite its intention to speed up redistribution of the country’s land to the black majority, who still only own a fraction of the land more than two decades after the end of white minority rule in 1994.

But investors have been jittery since Trump’s comments, in case the United States follows up with punitive measures.

Sullivan, who was speaking to journalists in Johannesburg after talks with South African officials, said he was mainly in “listening mode” as he sought to understand the complexities of the country’s land reform programme.

“My message on behalf of the U.S. is in addressing this complex issue (land reform), that it be done in a transparent way so that both the agriculture sector and the economy generally aren’t significantly adversely affected,” he added.

“I don’t think it has translated well across the ocean and been covered with the depth and perspective that is necessary.”

Sullivan said the United States expected that South Africa would extradite Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang to the United States over his alleged role in a $2 billion fraud.

He added that Washington was “very enthusiastic” about the new Zimbabwean government, but wanted to see more action on reform.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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