Five-year window open for land claims

Cape Town - A stream of new land claims may have to take the back seat for now - the settlement of the province’s older land claims is the priority.

This was according to Vuyani Nkasayi, a spokesman for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in the Western Cape. More than a decade and a half after the cut-off in terms of the old land claims process, the province has more than 1 000 claims yet to be settled.

A piece of state-owned land nestled between Firgrove Way and Spaanschemat River Road in Constantia has been earmarked for land claims in terms of the old process. The claimants awaiting the settlement of these claims are among hundreds whose claims are yet to be settled. Photo: MICHAEL WALKER. Credit: CAPE TIMES

“Right now, we need to prioritise claims lodged before 1998. Those claims will be prioritised,” said Nkasayi.

How long people who had lodged land claims in terms of the new process would wait to see an outcome, however, he could not say. He said he could not give a definite answer because he did not want to create the “wrong impression or expectation”.

The old process had had several hurdles that had since been overcome, making the process smoother and faster. But the new process presented other challenges, which included housing backlogs, poverty and unemployment.

“All of those affect the settlement of land claims,” said Nkasayi.

Patrick Thembani, a project co-ordinator for the regional Land Claims Commission, said they were awaiting guidance from the national Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and the minister as to when they would start processing new land claims and the budget for the new process. Thembani explained that broadly speaking, there were 10 main phases in the life cycle of a land claim.

How to lodge an application:

The first step to lodging a new land claim was submitting the claim at a lodgement office and taking along all the necessary documents. The details of the claim were then captured and stored on the commission’s system.

Once the claim was lodged, the claimant was issued with a reference number and an acknowledgment of the receipt of the claim - an important document to prove that the claim was lodged before the cut-off date in 2019.

The acknowledgment previously took time to arrive by post, but it was now handed over immediately when the claim was lodged.

The claimant’s documents were then sent to the commission’s registry - based at the department’s offices in the city centre - for the formal opening of the file. The information would be captured and stored in their database.

The claim was allocated a project officer, who would then begin processing the claim. Where there were several beneficiaries, a principal claimant would be appointed to deal with the commission on behalf of the entire family.

The claimant would also then choose an option of the type of restitution they wanted. The options were financial compensation or restoration of the original dispossessed property, and where restoration was not feasible, alternative state land.

The commission then investigated the validity of the claim, which included looking into whether a right in land was indeed lost and whether the person claiming could do so. The research phase of the claim was often one of the longest.

Once the commission was satisfied the claim was valid, it published a notice in the Government Gazette informing all interested parties - such as family members of the claimant and the land owner - that a claim had been lodged.

The commission then probed the claimant’s family tree to verify the beneficiaries and to ensure that no beneficiaries had been excluded from the claim.

This was the longest part of the claim, which involved negotiating either over financial compensation, or for land in terms of restoration of the original dispossessed land or alternative state land.

The land claim would go to a quality control committee to ensure everything had been done up to standard.

It would then go for final approval to the chief land claims commissioner or the minister, depending on the size of the claim.

Once the land claim was approved, the final phase was implemented - the paying out of financial compensation or transferring of a title deed.