Understanding Land Reform In SA

10th May 2000

To understand the progress and initiatives taking place in land reform in South Africa, one has to take into account the political, social and economic history that shaped the country.

Between 3.5 million and seven million people had been relocated, under various apartheid measures, in post 1913 social engineering, and after the 1994 elections much was expected of the new government that faced a staggering racial imbalance in land ownership.

The Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994 was promulgated in December 1994, crating a constitutional and legislative framework for the restitution process. This has been administered by the Department of Land Affairs as part of a broader land reform programme that has included land redistribution and land tenure reform.

To date, about 64 000 claims have been lodged, including individual household claims and community claims. Eighty percent of these are urban claims, meaning 52 000 households or 300 000 people are seeking restoration of land, with the majority seeming to prefer financial compensation.

The remaining 20% are rural community claims representing 600 000 households or 3.6 million people.

Unfortunately, when looking at the statistics, the intervening period spent on very complex issues, which are extremely time consuming, are simply ignored.

Alan Roberts, land claims commissioner for Western and Northern Cape, notes that after what has been done to the people of South Africa, it is still the poorest of the poor who continue to suffer.

He says the Minister of Land Affairs is deliberately not using her power to expropriate land because the present government does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

It is estimated that the 64 000 claims that have been lodged will take the next 10 years to process, at an enormous cost.

The government has been criticised for not tackling the toughest cases and the Department of Land Affairs is under much pressure to provide people with secure tenure where they can live, and so to prevent arbitrary or unfair evictions.

The challenge is to ensure that it contributes to farmer settlement, poverty eradication and integrated rural development in South Africa.

Antonija Stanich

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