Let’s not let the commitment to radical land reform slip

MEC Themba Mthembu writes on progress made in KZN, where half the land is already in state hands

Progress on Land reform in KwaZulu Natal

This year 2017 began with a highly pitched intonation around the land issue as part of political monologue from different political players, and the ANC is no less an interlocutor on the matter. The Land issue represents a stark reminder that in spite of the long road travelled since our democratic breakthrough the footprints of colonialism and apartheid in our country are as deeply entrenched as before.

The issue of land dispossessions is synonymous with the struggle against white oppression in South Africa. In fact the land question has always occupied the overarching political question for the liberation movement. The freedom charter dedicated much of the compelling clauses on land as a foremost urgent political question within the context of anti-colonial struggle.

It is because of its centrality to our complete restoration of human dignity that even today, 23 years in our post-apartheid setting, the land issue is still a dominant political factor for our people.

It is with greatest excitement that there seem to be a renewed interest from the ANC in tackling this issue for South Africa’s real freedom. More interesting is the great verve with which the ANC is elevating this issue to a radical perspective. I pray that this commitment does not become an ephemeral design of 2017, beyond which it will come to pass. There could be no real social justice and redress of the racial past malfeasances until such time that land is returned back to those from whom it was stolen. This issue is as a political question of the post-1994 redress as is a socio-economic question for our society.

The status of KwaZulu Natal on land reform

KwaZulu Natal is one of the largest provinces and therefore with large numbers of people who lodged claims on the basis of previous racist land removals. The province, through the state, owns 50% of land, whilst 46% is at the private hands. The remaining 4% is as yet unaccounted for in the province.

Over 16 000 land claims were lodged in KZN by the deadline of 31 December 1998. As at end of March 2016, we had settled 15 280 land claims in KZN. In the process, over 821 297 hectares of land have been approved for restoration to successful claimants. KwaZulu Natal has larger numbers of claimants than other provinces.

Government has spent in excess of R10 billion (R6,7 billion – land acquisition) (R2,2 billion – financial compensation) (R1,2 billion – development support) in settling the abovementioned land claims and providing development support to some of our beneficiaries.

Currently, the province is left with approximately 1900 land claims that are yet to be settled. One of the challenges that confronts the Commission is the absence of adequate internal research capacity to research the outstanding land claims.

In order to mitigate this challenge, the Commission is now working with research institutions to finish research on all outstanding land claims.

On the1st of July 2014, the legislation that reopened the lodgement of new claims by people who had missed the 31 December 1998 cut- off date came into operation. In KZN, we had two lodgement centres that claimants could use to lodge their land claims, namely, Pietermaritzburg and Vryheid. During this window for people to do lodgements, in Pietermaritzburg lodgement centre, about 33341 lodgements were made whilst 6389 lodgements were done in Vryheid lodgement centre. The lodgement had to be halted because of the Constitutional Court ruling last year.

Constitutional Court ruling against the Amendment Act

As at end of March 2016 the number of new land claims that had been lodged in KZN was sitting at 39 730. Government was taken to Constitutional Court by Lamosa challenging the validity of the Amendment Act that gave effect to the reopening of new claims without sufficient consultations. The Constitutional Court declared the Amendment Act invalid because of the failure of the National Council of Provinces and Provincial Legislatures to comply with its obligations to facilitate public involvement in accordance with the Constitution.

The Court considered that the Amendment Act had come into operation and that many claims have been lodged, and therefore ordered that the declaration of invalidity takes effect from the date of the judgment, which is the 27th of July 2016.

The claims that were lodged between 1 July 2014 and the date of the judgment are therefore validly lodged, despite the declaration of invalidity. However, the Court interdicted the Commission from processing the newly lodged land claims in any manner whatsoever.

Parliament has been given 24 months within which to pass an Act that will re -open lodgement of claims. The Constitutional Court recognised that Parliament has an option whether to pass such a law.

Challenges in the Pace and Quality of Settlements.

  The settlements have not promoted land equity, most of the claims are settled through financial compensations.

  There is a slow pace in settlement of claims from ourselves as government. This is compounded by the inadequate research capacity within the Commission

  Tensions between Traditional Authorities and CPIs

– Fragmented, Poor and Lack of support for beneficiaries.

  Absence of structured dispute resolution mechanisms to support CPIs

– Consistent management of paradigm shift from being landless to being an owner of high value agricultural land.

Despite the above mentioned challenges and constraints, the province has done well in settling a number of claims. We are a big province with largest numbers of the claims lodged. In that context, problems and complains are bound to arise such as the feeling that there is a slow pace in settlements from the side of the claimants.

Themba Mthembu is the MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development in KZN.