UPDATE: Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill

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On the 5th of October 2017 LARC researchers attended the Rural Development and Land Reform portfolio committee meeting where honourable P. J Mnguni of the ANC, presented the memorandum of a private member’s bill initiated by himself for the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill.

He has pushed for certain amendments to the Restitution of Land Rights Act, 1994 (Act No. 22 of 1994) (‘‘the Act’’) such as:

  1. Extending the date for lodging a claim for restitution to five years after the commencement of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, 2017
  2. To make it an offence to prevent, obstruct or unduly influence a claimant or any other person from pursuing his or rights as provided for in the Act
  3. To criminalise the lodgement of fraudulent claims; to regulate the appointment, tenure of office, remuneration and terms of conditions of serves of judges of the Land Claims Court (‘‘the Court’’)
  4. To further amend certain provisions aimed at promoting the effective implementation of the Act.

Honourable Mnguni mentioned that he was excited by his actions because the intent was to bring justice and manifest a sense of hope; for those reasons he wished that the draft bill would succeed. He further emphasized that the intensifying land crisis needed to be approached hastily to ensure that the landless and dispossessed would be able to see land in their lifetime.

The Restitution of Land Rights Act (No. 22 of 1994) was passed at the dawn of democracy. Its principle aim was to provide a solution for people who had been dispossessed of their land as a result of past racially discriminatory practices, such as forced removals. Included in this category of dispossessed, were black people who were forced to belong to homelands and ruled over by illegitimate traditional leaders. But does the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill offer hope for dealing significantly with these issues?

The DA portfolio committee members were not so hopeful, but rather worried that the exercise of bringing forth the memorandum was merely about re-wording the law as opposed to solving land rights issues. The DA further commented on the socio-economic impact study that said that, in the current context, it would take 120 years to resolve the issue of restitution. The DA said it was not anti-land reform and land claims, but it was concerned with its potential to promulgate existing problems. For the DA, the matter of recycling laws without looking at innovative ways to ensure that they stand the test of time was an exercise enhancing the problem, rather than unpacking and resolving it. The ANC members stated that they did not mind how long the restitution process was going to take, even if it took 120 years, so long as it got done.

The 2017 High Level Panel report, identified shortage of capacity, insufficient resources and lack of accountability as the principle issues that needed urgent attention. From the report’s perspective, the Private Member’s Amendment Bill that is currently before Parliament does not productively and proactively engage with these limitations.

Thus, the Panel’s recommended legislative amendments to address the problems are based on recognising, recording and effectively administering a range of rights to land – There are too many South Africans, in rural and urban areas, who have insecure tenure to the property that they occupy. Ossified misinterpretations of customary law are perpetually inconsistent with living customary law as experienced on the ground.

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