The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill was passed by the Rural Development and Land Reform Portfolio Committee yesterday, 5 February, after what seemed like rushed deliberations.
The bill seeks to amend the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 by extending the date for lodging a claim for restitution to 31 December 2018. It also seeks to further regulate the appointment, tenure of office, remuneration and the terms and conditions of service of judges of the Land Claims Court; to make further provision for the advertisement of claims; to create certain offences; to extend the Minister’s powers of delegation; and to provide for matters connected therewith.
According to the Act of 1994 the previous cut-off date for claims was no later than 31 December 1998. The Act also excluded those whose land was dispossessed before 1913.
As one of the bills being given top priority in Parliament, the committee held public hearings in Gugulethu to hear what the people had to say about land claims. On 28 January, community members representing their families, the Khoi San community and the Ndabeni people told the committee members how long they had been displaced, how long they have been waiting to have their claims processed, and the lack of information around land claim processing. One of the biggest issues was how claims that predated 1913 would be accommodated in the new bill.
Amongst their pleas, there was also a concern from many that land claims that had been lodged by the 1998 deadline, were still outstanding. They questioned how government would be able to re-open claims when it could not finalise existing ones. Claimants blamed maladministration and fraud by government officials as the key reasons that they did not fully trust what officials were promising them. (See full report here)
The Deputy Chief Land Claims Commissioner from the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, Mr Thami Mdontswa noted that the biggest issue outlined at the hearing was that of maladministration by government officials. He also admitted that due to the pressure of the job, there was a big turnover of employees, and once they left, the information on claims sometimes left with them. Mdontswa assured the speakers that the bill would allow those that missed the 1998 deadline to claim when the process opens.
At a meeting held on 3 February in parliament, the committee suggested that one of the pleas made by the public – to prioritise claims lodged before 1998 – should be expressed in the bill. The department explained that clause 6(2)(d) of the Restitution Act already made provisions for certain categories of persons to be prioritised, such as claims that affected a substantial number of persons or persons who had suffered substantial losses as a result of disposition or persons with particular pressing needs. Claimants who lodged claims before 1998 would be accommodated in this clause.
One area of controversy surrounding the bill was the impression that the bill was motivated and timed as an election ploy. This would explain the efforts to push the bill through. However, Chairperson of the committee, Honourable Jerry Thibedi stated that it would be “irresponsible” for the Fourth Parliament to rise without having concluded the process in view of all that had already been done, and that when the processing of the bill started in 2009, the original intention was that it would be passed in 2013. (See full report here)
The Committee met yesterday, 5 February, to adopt the bill. Members noted that a register of claims had to be kept by every claims office. They also expressed concern as to whether there was enough money to finance the bill. A regulatory impact assessment has estimated that 379 000 new claims could be lodged. The committee will hold another meeting with National Treasury to sensitise members to the budget of the bill.
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