Electronic filing set to help govt handle land claims better this time

2014-07-02 00:00

THE government’s land claims process reopened yesterday with an assurance by the government that electronic filing would speed up the historically tardy process.

Saying he was “very grateful” to President Jacob Zuma for signing the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti told a media briefing that past mistakes, including a court ruling which found that the government had “acted unlawfully” in an Eastern Cape case, had necessitated that the process be reopened for another five years.

The signing of the amendment into law and also the Property Valuation Act sparked constitutional concerns from the Democratic Alliance, which will be writing to the president to determine whether he had “fully applied his mind” before signing them.

According to Nkwinti, the government had “heeded the cries” of more than 1 000 people whom it had consulted and who felt unfairly excluded from the previous process, which had a cut-off date of 1998. “A great number of people complained that they had not been aware of the process at the time and as such they had missed the initial lodgement window.”’

Government had earlier estimated that about 379 000 new claims could be submitted over the new five-year period.

The process would be smoother and less open to criminal abuse, said Nkwinti, as there would be no manual submissions. “We have the benefit of hindsight now. Under the manual system, some papers even got lost. This time, everything will be registered electronically. It will be much easier.”

A total of 14 lodgement offices and sites had been opened and were equipped with advanced technology “to ensure speedy and accurate capture of relevant information”.

A total of 77 622 claims from the previous process had been settled to date, with about 8 471 still outstanding.

During question time, both Nkwinti and Land Claims commissioner Nomfundo Gobodo were ambiguous about whether claimants whose process had been finalised but not closed could now face counter-claims. Both referred to the Constitution, which guarantees people’s right to restitution or redress.

Nkwinti acknowledged that the Khoi and the San communities remained excluded, and that a policy was being developed to consider redress for claimants dispossessed of land before 1913.

The DA’s Thomas Walters said the amendment would “overload a corrupt and incapacitated restitutions process even further, leading to longer delays for the dispossessed and stagnation in the rural economy, which is already beginning to undermine food security”.

The Property Valuation Bill also misdiagnosed the problem, he said, as it “discourages new investment in the agricultural sector and may lead to increases in production costs for farmers due to increased interest rates and lower loans being offered relative to the value of properties”.

The bills were signed “despite having received a petition from the DA to refer this proposed legislation back to the National Assembly”.

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