Most people think land restitution is about farmland but the majority of cases lodged with the department of rural development and land reform are for urban land.
According to the land audit report of 2013, about four million hectares are used for agriculture, closely followed by more than 3.1 -million hectares for residential purposes.
When deciding the appropriate recommendation for each case, the department needs to establish the nature of the rights lost and how they can be restored. These rights differ in terms of urban and rural claims as some people were removed using different laws such as the Group Areas Act and the Native Trust Land Act.
According to a report compiled in 2003 by the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape, among the achievements of restitution has been the settlement of large numbers of urban claims, which tend to be for smaller pieces of land and often involve individual families.
“Some of them [urban land claims] were grouped together, such as the Port Elizabeth Land and Community Restoration Association, West Bank and East Bank claims in the Eastern Cape, Alexandra in Gauteng, and District Six in Cape Town.A total of 63 455 claims were originally lodged by the end of 1998 and, by March 2003, 36 488 claims were settled,” the report states.
It was only in 2002 that the then minister of agriculture and land affairs called for rural claims to be prioritised.But to date the number of claims has not changed much, with more than 80 000 restitution claims lodged, consisting of about 70% urban claims and 30% rural claims.
Phuti Mabelebele, the spokesperson for the department, said the reason urban land claims are resolved faster is because information about the dispossession can be tracked at the deeds office and other institutions.“However … challenges hamper the process, namely verification of claimants’ families in relation to the original dispossessed person,” she said.
Mabelebele added that other difficulties include that claimants would not accept financial offers because of family conflicts and differences of opinions within the claimant families.Scarcity of urban land for restitution purposes has also been a problem for the department.