KwaZulu-Natal’s chief director for restitution support, Advocate Bheki Mbili, has cautioned people not to fall prey to criminals who want to swindle them with empty promises of helping with a land claim.Mbili said the recent hype around the news of land without compensation has made the restitution programme a target for criminals. This comes after the ANC’s endorsement of land expropriation without compensation during its national conference in December.The provincial Land Claims Commission has spent more than R7 billion on buying approximately 800 000 hectares land for successful claimants and paid over R2 billion in financial compensation for successful claims lodged before December 1998.“We are government employees and the services of the commission are free. It’s really sad that we have to get reports that unsuspecting individuals are being robbed of their money by unscrupulous criminals. “But one must hasten to add that we also get reports that people are being asked to pay bribes to be part of the claims that they were previously not part of.” Mbili said unfortunately some people are not aware that the ANC’s land without compensation policy has not yet been legislated and the land claims process has also not been reopened. “The government policy still says that when we want to restore land, we must pay for it. Land without compensation is not yet government policy,” he said.Meanwhile, the provincial land commission only has 1 900 outstanding claims of the more than 16 000 lodged before the December 1998 deadline. Mbili said while they are proud of the progress made, they are now looking to finalise the remaining claims more quickly.He said one of the challenges is researching the claims, so the commission has outsourced those services, because they do not have capacity to deal with them without causing further delays.“The external service providers help us verify the claims. This helps a lot because not all the claims that have been lodged are valid and researching the individual claims’ validity takes a long time,” he said.He said having additional help has helped in adjusting their targets upwards. In the last financial year, the target was settling 110 claims, this year it is 160 and next year it is 300 claims that must be settled. “We anticipate that all the claimants will know by no later than the end of this year whether their claims are successful or not. The only thing that will be outstanding is finalising the settlement.“Because remember, in as much as claimants have rights, interested parties, including the current land owners, they’ve got rights in terms of raising their objections to the validity of the claims,” Mbili explained.He said some of the delays in settling the claims were due to some matters having being referred to the Land Claims Court for various reasons. The province currently has more than 90 matters before the court.“It’s not all of the 90 claims will be adjudicated by the court. Litigants have a tendency of disagreeing while they are outside court but when they get to court they then see the need to find one another on the issues that are at the centre of their disagreement,” said Mbili.He said the biggest concern for the commission was ensuring that agricultural land continues to be productive post-settlement. He said government was providing developmental support to the claimants because they did not want to see the farms failing. Support is also provided, through various government departments, for claimants who are interested in other community socio-economic programmes that seek to develop non-agricultural land. “When we settle land claims, claimants are given an opportunity to indicate what form of redress they require. “They have to choose between land restoration or financial compensation because not everyone wants to work the land,” said Mbili.The sad reality, according to Mbili, is that some claimants start fighting amongst themselves post-settlement, mostly over funds for the community projects.“Because of the investment that we make in these settlements, we find it difficult to just turn a blind eye so we try and mediate in the intra-community disputes, because when they happen the casualty is the land that we have restored,” he said.Mbili said sometimes the claimants prevent the commission from intervening in post-settlement problems by getting a court interdict.