- The recent, Cabinet-approved Land Court Bill is intended to address the systemic hurdles in the way of land claimants.
- The bill flows from the work of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.
- It will now follow the legislative process, including public participation.
The Land Court Bill is being introduced to Parliament to address the systemic hurdles that make it difficult for claimants to obtain land restitution, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said.
He and Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza briefed the media on the bill on Monday.
"All black South Africans and perhaps still to this day, are confronted with the effects of the migrant labour system which was anchored on land dispossession.
"Therefore, addressing the land question is not only a socioeconomic imperative but it is a matter of restoring the nation's soul. Land justice will restore the soul of the nation," said Lamola.
"It is against this background that we will be introducing a Land Court Bill to Parliament."
The bill is the outcome of the work done by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Land Reform which is chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza.
This IMC has been seized with implementing the recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture, which presented President Cyril Ramaphosa with its report in June 2019. Cabinet approved recommendations from the report in December 2019.
- The Land Claims Court be conferred into a new Land Court to adjudicate on all land related matters, and not only restitution.
- This Land Court must be given additional responsibilities, both judicial and extra functions such as conflict resolution and mediation.
- The court must have a functional approach that is modelled on negotiation before litigation on matters such as Expropriation Without Compensation which is proposed to Parliament in the Expropriation Bill.
- The panel recommended that the Land Court include the appointment of a permanent judge president and four permanent judges.
- The Land Court should also be required to check that settlement agreements give just and equitable compensation to landowners, in line with section 25 and the new Expropriation Act, when enacted.
The IMC accepted these recommendations and effected them in the bill.
The bill also introduces a Land Appeal Court - with a jurisdiction equal to the Supreme Court of Appeal concerning cases under its jurisdiction which is a court of record.
It also makes Legal Aid South Africa responsible for the legal representation function currently undertaken by the Land Rights Management Facility in the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.
This will ensure that Legal Aid SA has both the finances and capacity required to broaden its reach to indigents, especially those who seek land justice.
"Ultimately, the bill seeks to ensure stronger judicial oversight over claims, and this must lead to better settlements, reduce the scope for corruption and avert the bundling of claims into dysfunctional mega-claims that lead to conflict," said Lamola.
He added the bill would assist to develop our land jurisprudence and sought to address the systemic hurdles that made it difficult for land claimants to obtain land restitution.
"For instance, the bill allows for hearsay evidence for most families who have to rely on oral history and the existence of elders with knowledge of the description, location, and extent of land which their descendants previously occupied.
"It also allows for expert evidence regarding the historical and anthropological facts relevant to any particular land claim."
However, he warned the bill on its own would not be a silver bullet to solve the land question.
Didiza said she was pleased there was now going to be a court that could adjudicate on several issues her department had to deal with.
The bill will allow the appointment of permanent judges to the court.
"This, in my view, will ease the speedy resolution of land disputes in the country and the development of land jurisprudence.
"Matters of land continue to bedevil our society, and therefore we require enough capacity to deal with this," she added.
This bill was recently approved by Cabinet and will now go through the parliamentary legislative process, which will include public participation.
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