Expert's plea to Parliament: First clear land claims backlog

Cape Town – Land expert Dr Aninka Claassens told Parliament’s portfolio committee on rural development and land reform on Wednesday that the backlog on land claims desperately needs to be cleared before government implements any new policies aimed at changing land ownership patterns.

This was just one of the findings and recommendations of government’s high level panel into the impact of the Constitution on the socioeconomic realities of South Africans. The panel was led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe.

Among other things, the panel noted 8 million hectares has been transferred through land reform, most of which belonged to just 3 000 trusts and communal property associations. The panel also noted inadequate government capacity to support entities claiming land.

Claassens managed the high level panel’s work relating to the restitution of land rights. She told the committee on Wednesday morning that February’s motion for the expropriation of land without compensation in Parliament came at a fragile time, as politicians are using the land question to either crack down on poor landless people or stoke illegal occupations.

She told the committee that over the past 23 years, land claims had been complicated by separate claimants seeking land in the same area being lumped up into one claim process, leading to long-running internal disputes.

“Backlogged claims must be resolved before other claims are allowed. The land claims commission must be made independent of government and land claims must be stabilised. The panel will review merits of existing claims as many do not qualify.”

Claassens said the panel recommends the subdivision of land and breaking up consolidated mega-communities. The panel also recommends that judicial oversight be restored, so that deserving claims can be approved.

“The systems need strong family and individual recorded land rights within the communal property associations that are enforceable against committees and detailed regulations as soon as possible to enable communities to determine land use, and user right allocation,” she said.

She said the high level panel recommended the establishment of a “land rights protector” to investigate and rule on land disputes, as the costs associated with litigation on land disputes slowed the process down significantly.

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