South Africa’s sensitive land reform programme sees the reopening of land claims, bringing new hope for victims of land dispossession and renewed fears for commercial farmers.
The country has struggled to deal with land claims over the past 20 years.
Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti announced on Tuesday morning that a new five-year period to lodge land claims opened on Tuesday and that claimants had already started submitting their claims.
The period will run until June 30 2019. President Jacob Zuma signed the deeply contested Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill into law on Monday, opening way for the new tenure of land claims.
Opponents of the new law said the process was likely to push farmers off their land and would threaten food security. There are an estimated 35 000 food producers in South Africa. The initial period to lodge land claims ended in December 1998 and an estimated 80 000 land claims were lodged during that period.
‘Heed the cries of people’
Nkwinti told Parliament journalists that 77 622 land claims from the first period had been settled by the end of March this year, resulting in the transfer of 1.6-million hectares of land to beneficiaries, benefiting 371 191 households.
He said R29.2-billion had been approved for restitution processes since 1995 and R24.4-billion spent by the end of March, including slightly more than R7-billion on financial compensation for beneficiaries.
Nkwinti said the decision to reopen the lodging of land claims was taken following requests and submissions by thousands of people who had missed the initial deadline.
“We thought we should heed the cries of people who spoke to us about other people who live with them that did not claim for whatever reasons,” he said. Nkwinti acknowledged there was a huge debate about the “inability” of the department to fast track restitution or the settlement of land claims, but said some of the claims that have not been settled were complex and in some cases in the courts.
The department might have to deal with old and new claims simultaneously as a result. “It’s not because of lack of money, or processes, some of them are in court, others are embedded claims because of embedded chieftainships.”
The government has not set a target for the new claims, but is confident it can work faster this time around because claims will be lodged electronically rather than manually as in the previous process.
Intensive national communication process
“As I indicated in the first window, we used manual and some of them got lost and we would have to go back and redo them,” he said. The new legislation has criminalised manual lodging of claims.
Nkwinti would not discuss the budget for the new claims process, saying that budget was not and should not be an issue, except a political issue.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has estimated that the new claims process will cost about R179-billion. When the National Assembly passed the Bill in February, the DA attempted to introduce additional amendments to the Bill but was outvoted by the ANC majority.
The DA amendments included preceding the new land claims process with an intensive national communication process. After this communication and preparation, the window for lodging claims should be opened for six months only, the party proposed.
In addition, those who did not meet the 1998 deadline for land claims should show good cause why they were eligible for consideration during the new window. A deadline of six years should be set for the adjudication process to be completed.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose claim to fame includes calls for expropriation of land without compensation, will be further disappointed to learn that there are no plans to expropriate.
“It’s not going to be expropriation. There is going to be engagement, discussion, agreement, then the sale and the transaction,” said Nkwinti.
The EFF rejected Zuma’s signing of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill into law, saying the state should not pay to restore “stolen” land to its rightful owners.