Locals aim to speed up land claims

2015-05-05 06:00
The District Six working committee has requested to be part of the land claims verification process, claiming they will speed up the process.


PHOTO: 
nicole mccain

The District Six working committee has requested to be part of the land claims verification process, claiming they will speed up the process. PHOTO: nicole mccain

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The District Six working committee has volunteered to bolster the land claims process.

The organisation maintains it can complete the entire verification process, which can take several years when carried out by the department of rural development and land reform, in just one year.

Completing claims

Each claim goes through a very rigorous process of research, explains Land Claims Commission chief director Michael Worsnip. Often claims are vague or incomplete and these first need to be completed before the commission can test if there was dispossession according to the law.

“That might not be a simple matter to decide, because the act allows for dispossession because of racial practice as well as racial legislation,” he explains.

All the potential beneficiaries might not have been accounted for, Worsnip says.

“Sometimes people are deliberately and wrongfully excluded. Resolving family disputes is often one of the key delays in the resolution of a claim,” he says.

Then the commission tests the actual relationships, Worsnip explains.

“Often getting people to produce their identity documents is a major problem. Sometimes people are reluctant to produce them, because of this or that skeleton in the closet,” he says.

“Often people disappear, in which case we need to put adverts in the press to try to contact them. Often there are disputes and sometimes there is fraud.”

Resolving all these matters can take a great deal of time and effort, says Worsnip.

“It is thus impossible to say what the normal time for the verification and compliance process for a claim is. It could take an afternoon. It could take 19 years,” he says.

Backlog

In the previous land claims process, claims were captured on paper which created many inaccuracies or discrepancies, Worsnip says.

“Then there is the matter of capacity. The office manages to settle, working optimally and being far ahead of all the other offices in the country, around 250 claims in a year,” he says.

To date, 15 000 claims have been settled. There are 1000 outstanding.

“We have a fairly small staff and the settlement process requires very intensive stakeholder engagement. There is a queue and some claims are in the front of the queue and some towards the back,” he says.

In community claims, the community representatives are usually in the form of a trust or a communal property association. These are always asked to assist with verification, Worsnip says.

This is where the District Six working committee hopes to step in.

Verification

Working committee chairperson Shahied Ajam says the organisation has formally requested to be included in the process.

“At this rate, it will take 20 years to finalise all the claims. Unresolved issues in other community groups have held up the previous process, and we want to avoid that,” he says. The organisation is currently busy with a verification process through a door-to-door campaign in Hanover Park and Mitchell’s Plain. Close to a thousand members have been verified this way, Ajam says.

However, verification is only one step of the land claims process, Worsnip says.

Once claims have been verified, a complex settlement process is carried out.

A research report needs to be written up and approved. Claimants are then given options on how they would like to be compensated.

“If they are eligible for, and choose development, then there is the long process of identifying a piece of land, if restoration is not possible,” Worsnip explains.

“The process is necessarily a long one, because the matters are complex and involve a lot of hurt and a lot of emotion,” he says

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