Land Affairs reports back on slow progress

Over R1 billion in unspent funds returned to Treasury, delays in reviewing the willing buyer, willing seller (WBWS) policy and reforming communal land ownership, and difficulties in implementing eviction laws were among the issues raised when the Department of Land Affairs presented its annual report for 2005/06 to the select parliamentary committee on land and environmental affairs on 19 June.

- Advertisement -

Land affairs director-general Glen Thomas told the committee the WBWS review was being delayed by the restructuring of the department, but that a strategic plan was being devised. It included a proactive land acquisition strategy, biofuels plans, new land delivery models, decentralising decision-making and reformulating business models to fast-track land delivery.

Thomas said a pilot programme in KZN for implementing the Communal Land Rights Act had been suspended. The department was investigating a better way of implementing the act, which is regarded as key to unlocking economic development in former homelands but which has been languishing on the statute books since 2004. 

He listed the challenges facing the department in implementing its land reform mandate. These included high staff turnover, high land cost, unsurveyed and unregistered land rights requiring detailed mapping, protracted negotiations with landowners and land claimants, community disputes involving traditional authorities, and landowners disputing the validity of claims. Alignment between his department and the agriculture department and municipalities was also poor, he said.

- Advertisement -

Thomas told the committee his department had tried to implement the Labour Tenants’ Act and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act without success because the laws regulated evictions from farms rather than protecting farmdwellers’ tenure rights. The department considered creating a class of non-evictable occupiers but rejected the idea because there was no clarity about whether landowners or municipalities would have to pay for services for tenants, or about how to handle people who needed to be evicted for valid reasons.

The department decided the best solution was to buy land closer to towns where jobs, services and transport were more easily accessible. Ideally former tenants should be given smallholdings for small-scale farming, he said.
The department’s financial officer Sarah Choane told the committee R1,05 billion was reverted to Treasury because of underspending, mostly on restitution. She said this was a cause for concern but pointed out that in real terms spending had increased year on year. – Stephan Hofstätter