State funds will be used for the billions of rands needed each year for the next 15 years to settle new land claims, Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said on Wednesday.
"It will be funded through the fiscus," he told members of Parliament's rural development and land reform portfolio committee.
"Treasury has actually underscored the fact that this is a government programme.It does not require a stand-alone budget; it requires a normal budget," he said.
Earlier, the committee heard that an estimated 397 000 valid land claims might be lodged when the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, which aims to extend the cut-off date for lodging a claim for restitution, is enacted.
Chief land claims commissioner Nomfundo Gobodo told MPs: "It may cost R129-billion to R179-billion to settle these claims, if settled within a 15-year period."
This is equivalent to between R8.6-billion and R11.9-billion a year. The amendment Bill, once it has been passed into law, will re-open the land claims process for a five-year period, to end on December 31 2018.
The first claims window closed in 1998. Democratic Alliance MP Kevin Mileham wanted to know where the money would come from for the new claims.
"I'd like to hear … where we are going to find an additional between R8.6-billion and R11.9-billion per annum over the medium to long-term [15 years]. Where are we going to find the money to settle land claims?"
His party colleague, Mpowele Swathe, raised similar concerns, and queried whether people's hopes were being raised ahead of the May 7 election.
Nkwinti denied the re-opening of land claims was an election promise.
"The re-opening of land claims is not an election promise. Land is at the heart of the national liberation struggle of our country.
"We are talking about a national grievance when we talk about land restoration to its own people. This is a national grievance … We are not playing games here. South Africans, until this question is settled fundamentally, your children will never be free."
He called on MPs not to treat the matter lightly.
According to a document tabled by Gobodo at the briefing, in June last year there were 8 733 outstanding land claims from the first (up to 1998) window period.
Well over half of these are in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
Nkwinti said outstanding claims would be processed alongside new claims.
"We will simultaneously process the old and the new [claims]. We will do that simultaneously. We won't wait until 2017, or to 2019, to process the new claims.
"We will do [them] simultaneously, but we will prioritise the 1998 claims for payment. We will pay any claim that is ready for payment, irrespective of when it was lodged," he said. – Sapa