It could take 144 years to settle land claims, warns researcher

It would take 144 years to settle all land claims in the restitution process at the current track record, a leading land reform researcher has warned.

Briefing the Rural Development and Land Reform committee at Parliament on Tuesday, University of Western Cape Professor Ruth Hall said the department estimated that 379 000 new claims would be lodged between 2014 and the cut-off date of 2019.

At the same workshop, the department revealed that 123 571 new claims had been lodged so far in the reopened process.

“According to the commission’s track record and if the forecasts are correct and assuming the process will be at the same rate as before, it would take 144 years to resolve all the claims,” said Hall, who is based at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS).

The process had reopened in 2014 at a time of shrinking budgets and threat of staff cuts.

At the briefing, the department said that a total of 425 jobs had been advertised but that budget cuts by Treasury meant that not all these posts would be filled.

The belt-tightening comes as a slew of land reform legislation is before Parliament and which required new staff positions to be created.

Hall said that critical questions needed to be asked about the reopening of the restitution process, and what it meant for the pre-existing backlog in claims.

The backlog emanates from land claims that could be submitted from 1995 to 1998.

“We need to look at how these (old claims) will be prioritised and ring-fenced, and also at the real risk of overlapping claims,” she said.

Speaking afterwards, Hall said that the land claims process started slowly, then it picked up mostly with cash settlements.

“The claims that haven’t yet been settled are often the large complicated claims from rural areas,” she said.

In a recent PLAAS policy briefing paper, 20 592 accepted claims had yet to be ‘finalised’ and fully implemented by August 2013. Another 1 507 gazetted claims had not been settled, and a further 7 226 had not yet been gazetted.

“If all of the latter are indeed gazetted, this would mean that 37% of claims remain to be fully implemented – 20 years after restitution was begun,” said PLAAS.

The land claims commission is expected to update the committee today about the latest restitution figures.

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