Land restitution in SA could take 700 years

Image: Adrian de Kock

It would take more than 700 years to complete the land restitution process if claims were reopened and processed at the current pace‚ a member of the high-level panel on key legislation told Parliament on Wednesday.

"We have created expectations that can’t be met‚" Aninka Claassens‚ director of the Land and Accountability Research Centre at the University of Cape Town (UCT)‚ told Parliament’s portfolio committee on land reform and rural development.

Section 25 (7) of the Constitution says a person or community dispossessed of their land after 1913 due to historically discriminatory laws or practices is entitled to restitution or redress.

Claassens said there were already more than 7‚000 unsettled and more than 19‚000 unfinalised "old order" claims that were submitted between 1995 and 1998.

At the current pace of finalising 560 claims a year‚ they would take at least 35 years to deal with. "New order" claims lodged after 2014 would take 143 years to settle. If the process were to be re-opened‚ another 397‚000 claims were likely to be lodged‚ which at the ‘current pace would take 709 years to finalise‚ she said.

She said the land claims commission did not have the capacity to deal with the number of claims it faced. Many of its staff were inadequately trained‚ and the commission did not keep proper records. In some provinces‚ less than 3% of files were in order‚ according to a 2014 Genesis report‚ she said.

"How do you process restitution claims when you don’t have claim forms and people have been waiting 20 years‚" she said.

The panel also concluded that there had been inconsistent prioritisation of land claims and that invalid claims had been approved. There was increasing evidence of corruption and valid claims had been held back to enable counterclaims by specific elites to be lodged‚ she said.

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