Settling more than land claims

Re-opening the land claims process could lead to much strife among community members.

The land claims process will soon be re-opened for those who missed the cut-off date in 1998. According to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR), the process will kick off once President Jacob Zuma signs the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill into law. For those who missed out during the original campaign, this presents a fresh opportunity to reclaim their land. However, the worrying fact is that it takes a great deal of time to resolve these claims.

This has a negative effect on food production, because, while waiting for claims to be settled, many farmers allow their lands to lie fallow. Landowners also stop investing in their land because they are unsure about their future. Yet another problem is corruption, which milks both the state and land claimants dry. DRDLR minister Gugile Nkwinti has warned claimants not to fall prey to scams that promise to lodge land claims on their behalf. Apparently, some people have already collected money from unsuspecting community members, saying they would help them with their land claims.

Read: Just another election promise?

The problem of fraud
A few weeks ago, the minister admitted to farmers at the Nerpo AGM that in many cases the reason for the high cost of land was not as a result of farmers increasing their asking prices or receiving a great deal of money for their farms. It was because there was ‘something’ going on between the government and some farmers, with many officials in government and his department using the process to enrich themselves illegally. “These people are messing up our relationship with farmers,” he said.

The other side of a coin
I recently attended several meetings between Nkwinti and communities that have waited since 2002 for their claims to be finalised. Here I observed that in addition to government’s incompetence, there are many complex challenges facing land claims. The communities themselves sometimes contribute to the delays in claim settlements, because each community has not functioned as a unit for decades.

Read: Green Paper update

After being dispossessed of their land,many people dispersed. Some of the claimants are sons and daughters, or even grandchildren, of the original claimants. In many cases, these claimants have moved on and made a life for themselves elsewhere. Those who have been exposed to the business world may see an opportunity in the claimed land, while others who have not really done well are hoping to start over.

Add to this the many smooth-talking fraudsters who make tempting promises to poor people, and the community is bound to be divided. People spend far too much time at each others’ throats instead of trying to resolve issues as a unit, and this leads to further delays. Many end up not talking to each other. It is clear that a lot needs to be done before land claims can be dealt with efficiently.