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Land issue held up by politicking

The Mercury
24 January 2018
Bheki Mbanjwa

POLITICAL meddling in land restitution in terms of “unreasonable targets” and individual awards has damaged the integrity of the process.
This was one of the findings in the recently released report of the High-Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change.
The panel, chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, was appointed by Parliament to investigate the impact of legislation in respect of poverty, unemployment, inequality, wealth distribution, land reform, and social cohesion.
The 600-page report explores these issues and makes recommendations which have been taken to Parliament for consideration.
The report’s section on land recently attracted controversy with Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini threatening dire consequences at the weekend should the government accept the recommendations on the scrapping of the Ingonyama Trust.
The report, however, explores broader issues on land and one of these focuses on the various factors that have led to land restitution proceeding at a slow pace.
It notes that despite billions of rand being poured into the land restitution issue, the whole process has been very slow. It warns that “members of the public are angry and have seen few benefits of land restitution coming to them”.
While the budget has been cited as one of the reasons for the slow pace, the panel found fundamental problems lie with capacity and systems.
The report then recommends that all land claims lodged on or before December 31, 1998 need to be resolved expeditiously and that the June 19, 1913 cut-off date must be retained.
While the ruling party has said the problem with the implementation of land reform lies with the willing buyer-willing-seller policy, the panel found that there were “profound problems” which extend beyond how land is acquired.
These problems, the panel said, relate to among other things on how beneficiaries are chosen and how land is identified.
Members of the panel also felt that the Land Claims Court will need to be stabilised through the appointment of a permanent Judge President and permanent judges of the court.
“This is a problem that has been left unaddressed for some 17 years,” it noted.
The panel also explored the security of tenure for farm dwellers and farm workers. It found that despite the constitutional provisions and legislative frameworks, evictions and other human rights violations directed at this vulnerable group of people have continued unabated.
Some of the recommendations made on this include the establishment of a national register of farm dwellers, which would be compiled by a chapter nine institution or the Legal Aid Board.
Furthermore, the panel says a thorough review of legal services provided to farm dwellers is needed.
Currently, legal assistance for farm dwellers is offered through the Land Rights Management Facility (LRMF), but the panel found that many farm dwellers remain inadequately supported and represented.
This is due to a lack of referrals to the LRMF and also because some of the lawyers appointed to the panel of service providers lack skills.
“It is worth noting that it could potentially reduce the cost to the government and improve the delivery of legal services to farm dwellers if the Legal Aid Board takes responsibility for providing these legal services again.”