Squabbles, red tape hold up restitution in KwaZulu-Natal

Representatives of rural areas, traditional leaders and groups wanting to lodge claims, painted a bleak picture of their struggle for land restitution during public hearings by Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee (Delwyn Verasamy)

Representatives of rural areas, traditional leaders and groups wanting to lodge claims, painted a bleak picture of their struggle for land restitution during public hearings by Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee (Delwyn Verasamy)

A toxic mix of bureaucratic failure, tensions between local government and traditional leaders and infighting among residents has slowed down the process of land restitution in KwaZulu-Natal.

Representatives of rural areas, including existing land claimants, traditional leaders and groups wanting to lodge claims, painted a bleak picture of their struggle for land restitution during public hearings by Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee in Ulundi and Port Shepstone this week.

Claimants from several areas spoke of their difficulty in having claims, some lodged as far back as 1998, processed and settled.

Milton Cele, a claimant from Izingolweni near the South Coast, said his claim, lodged in November 1997, had still not been resolved. Others said they had been told by officials from the land reform department that their paperwork had been lost; still others said their claims had been successful but they had not yet been paid.

Lila Nkosi, a claimant from Jozini who had been evicted from a farm in Ulundi in the 1970s, told the hearing her claim had been settled but she had been unable to return to the land as the current tenants refused to go.

Other claimants told of disputes among members of community trusts set up to lodge claims.

Statistics presented by the department show that 15 000 claims were lodged between 1996 and 1998 in KwaZulu-Natal, with a further 40 277 lodged between 2014 and 2016. A total of 16 128 claims were settled, 13 855 of them in urban areas, with 2 273 rural claims settled so far.

Land reform portfolio committee deputy chairperson Pumzile Mnguni, who chaired the hearings, said the process had been “slow”.

“We are thinking that, with some of the measures proposed in the Bill, as it stands, they are meant to fast-track the process now and ensure that the process unfolds and runs with pace.”

Mnguni said that outstanding existing claims, with new claims lodged in the reopened window,  would be dealt with thereafter on a first come, first served basis.

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