CLS comment on President Zuma’s address to NHOTL

President Jacob Zuma gave his annual address to the National House of Traditional Leaders on Thursday (March 5, 2014). Deviating from his prepared notes, the President repeated problematic statements he has made before regarding land restitution. Traditional leaders were again strongly encouraged to combine resources and hire lawyers to claim land on behalf of communities [read here].

The president also criticized traditional leaders heavily for not taking enough “initiative” on land claims since he proposed it in his annual address last year:

“I requested that we should all come together as traditional leaders and have perhaps one set of lawyers that we can all contribute to. They can deploy themselves in different provinces, so that there is no land that remains in the wrong hands…”

President Zuma’s statements come despite numerous announcements by traditional leaders that they would lodge land claims on behalf of their ‘communities’ since the restitution claims process was re-opened in 2014. They include King Goodwill Zwelithini, as well as leaders of the Hlubi, Rharhabe and Thembu [read more here]. Many people have opposed these moves by traditional leaders. The Pretoria News noted recently that residents in Mamelodi, Gauteng, voiced “strong objection to the land claim by ‘chief’ Victor Lekhuleni”. [See here]

The president also made off-the-cuff remarks criticising people who complain about poverty but who are “not farming”. He called on traditional leaders to take land away from people who were not using the land “productively”:

“You should be charging people that are not farming…the land should be taken from people that are not using productively and be given to those that are diligent.”

The call for traditional leaders to make land claims and to punish unproductive small farmers seems to have been the president’s main message. It was delivered as part of his speech to the National House of Traditional Leaders, but excluded in the version published on the presidency website. This highlights the president’s ‘double speak’ and the closed dialogue on land reform taking place between government and traditional leaders to the exclusion of communities. In the speech there was no acknowledgement of communities’ experiences living under the rule of autocratic traditional leaders, despite reports of abuse of power and violation of people’s land rights by some traditional leaders who claim to represent them.

Also quite alarming is the fact that in his evocative call for traditional leaders to claim land, President Zuma did not make any mention of the backlog of 20 000 restitution claims that remain unresolved from before 1998. This signals that the old claims are most likely going to be overlooked in favour of new claims by traditional leaders, which will only further the exclusion of other community-based groups from claiming land.

Overall the President’s speech frames the failure of land restitution as a consequence of communities being unable to afford lawyers to help them claim land, and traditional leaders not claiming land on behalf of communities. This disregards the fact that the national budgetary allocation for the land reform programme has been slowly decreasing, while the costs of the land restitution programme are due to rise exponentially [read more here]. It also ignores the findings of a recent report, Implementation Evaluation of the Restitution Programme (28 February 2014), by the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency, which noted that “…a range of serious systemic and operational weaknesses which compromise efficiency and effectiveness, and have undermined the achievement of its [the Restitution programme’s] developmental purpose.” The report highlights poor management and lack of capacity as the main challenges, which have been have been comprehensively identified in the past, but remain unresolved. The recommendation of the report is that “…all outstanding claims should be settled before any work begins, on the processing of new claims…”

During his speech, President Zuma informed the National House of Traditional Leaders of two policies that are about to go before cabinet: the Communal Land Bill, formerly known as the Communal Land Tenure Policy, and the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership and Governance Bill, previously called the Traditional Affairs Bill. The President invited traditional leaders to participate in parliamentary processes and asked they set aside time to discuss his speech on 10 March 2015 at 14h00. If President Zuma’s speech is any indication, the session on March 10 will be used to formulate a strategy of how traditional leaders can capitalize as a unit on the re-opening of land claims and prepare their position for the two bills that are about to go to parliament. See the full speech here.

Nolundi Luwaya – Centre for Law and Society: 021 650 5693, 083 961 8446;
Thiyane Duda – Centre for Law and Society: 021 650 5104, 083 450 3265;
Tara Weinberg – Centre for Law and Society: 021 650 3405, 079 872 9273.

Released by the Centre for Law and Society on 8 March 2015.

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