THE Constitutional Court has put the brakes on a law that places all communal land under the sole control of chiefs and the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform.
On Friday the court ruled 14 sections of the Communal Land Rights Act (Clara) unconstitutional.
It ruled that some traditional councils had not been democratically elected and the interests of women, children, the elderly and the youth might not be properly represented by the traditional councils.
The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) said Clara would have ruined customary systems of land distribution in rural areas.
"Customary law has checks and balances at the levels of Induna, sub-chief, and community meetings," said LRC lawyer Henk Smit.
"Putting sole power at the level of traditional councils, which govern between 6 000 and 60000 people, is not good governance."
The plaintiffs the LRC acted for in the case against the government represented different communities whose land had ended up under the control of chiefs of apartheid's tribal authorities - now recognised as traditional councils.
Aninka Claassens of the University of Cape Town's law, race and gender unit praised the ruling.
"Clara ignored the whole system of how rights coexist between individuals, families and groups . (and making) decisions about their land."