‘Land laws review needed to protect the poor’

2008-06-16 00:00

A review of the country’s land laws is needed to secure the socio-economic rights for the landless rural poor as entrenched in the Constitution.

This was the argument presented by Land Claims Court president Justice Fikile Bam and ANC MP John Jeffries, both of whom were guest speakers at the 29th Association for Rural Advancement’s (Afra) AGM in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday.

Bam argued that most land laws do not protect the rural poor. “The playing fields are not level because of the socio-economic differences that still exist. In most cases, the landowner has the upper hand in legal matters. The laws that have been passed to verify this are very vague and need to be reviewed,” he said.

He warned, however, that when addressing such “gaps”, lawmakers must ensure that the rights of the landowners are also not trampled upon. “… if we speak of burial rights for the farm dwellers, you need to also consider the rights of the farmer, who may suffer more if you allow his land to be indiscriminately used as a cemetery,” he said.

Bam said land issues need to be higher up in the government’s list of priorities. “I do not think that some of our politicians give land issues the priority is deserves, some are even more concerned with rugby matters,” he said.

The media were also not spared from criticism. He said: “The Land Claims Court has an equal status to the high court. However, you rarely find cases … making headlines.”

Bam said that access to legal services is crucial in addressing imbalances and more legal centres need to be made available to the landless poor.

He was responding to Mangaliso Kubheka of the Landless People’s Movement who argued that legal resource centres are refusing to handle land cases.

bmbanjwa@witness.co.za

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