Land claims: Parliament begins process to reopen window to lodge claims

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Parliament.
Parliament.

Cape Town - The portfolio committee on rural development and land reform on Thursday began discussions on a private members' amendment bill to reopen the window for citizens to lodge land claims.

The private members bill was brought by African National Congress MP Pumzile Mnguni, having been tabled and referred to the committee in August by the Office of the Speaker.

Parliament had previously opened up a draft bill for public comment in 2014, but was ruled not to have given enough time for comment on the draft bill by the Constitutional Court.

READ: SA has over 6 000 outsanding land claims - Nkwinti

The court subsequently nullified the bill in July last year, but protected the claims of citizens that had been submitted in those two years. It gave Parliament two years to reintroduce and adopt legislation by July 2018.

"As we all know, those 'frozen' claims lodged in that period poses a tricky legal question, as the court struck down the bill, but protected the claims of the claimants."

It essentially could not throw the baby out with the bath water.

'Has justice been done?'

Mnguni said that the reopening of the bill was therefore valid, as the original window that closed in 1998 only received 80 000 claims, which was "only 1% of the anticipated demand".

"It is estimated that 3.5 million individuals were forcibly removed from their land since 1913," Mnguni said, reading from a clause in the bill.

"This figure excludes homeland planning, and could be closer to 7.5 million."

This was a driving factor to reopen the window, he said. 6000 claims from the 1998 batch alone still needed to be finalised.

The bill seeks to extend the date for lodging a claim of restitution to five years after the date of its signing into law.

It also seeks to make it an offence to dismiss a valid claim, to criminalise a deliberate attempt to falsify a claim, and to improve the functionality of the Land Claims Court.

Mnguni said that the amendment bill itself had satisfied all Cabinet requirements, and only fell down at the final hurdle through the National Council of Provinces' failure to include public involvement.

The committee will also debate whether to leave the window open indefinitely.

"Do you think justice could be done if we just closed all claims after 1998, even with these frozen claims from 2014?" Mnguni argued.

'Flawed' legislation

Democratic Alliance MPs said they respect the fact that Mnguni brought the bill back to Parliament, and supports the sentiment.

Their preference though was to write completely new legislation, rather than simply reword the "flawed" 2014 amendment bill, DA MP Thomas Waters said.

He argued the bill doesn't deal with underlying issues that have hampered land reform, which is said will possibly take 120 years to fully reverse.

United Democratic Movement MP Mncedisi Filtane asked if the new bill was simply a substitution to the 2014 bill.

Other obstacles include the public participation process, which will need to be improved to meet Constitutional muster.

A motion of desirability will be passed at another meeting following a few more deliberative sessions, and consultation with other stakeholders.

The new amendment bill will also need to be referred to the House of Traditional Leaders. A socio-economic impact study will also need to be done by Cabinet.

If adopted by the committee, the bill will go for two debate readings in the National Assembly. If passed, it will then go again to the NCOP and opened up for public comment.

If successful there, it goes to the presidency where it will be subjected to the president's own checks, before being signed into law.

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