Cape Town - The government is working on a policy that will allow the Khoi and San people to lodge claims on land lost prior to the 1913 cut-off date, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said on Tuesday.
Welcoming the signing into law of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act by President Jacob Zuma, he told reporters at Parliament these communities had not been forgotten.
“As we reopen the lodgement period, we are mindful that there are parts of our community that remain excluded by this process. I refer to the Khoi and the San communities, who are not accommodated by this (act).
“I want to assure them that a policy on the exceptions to the 1913 Natives Land Act cut-off date is being developed, that seeks to address their concerns.”
The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act reopens a five-year window period – up to 2019 – for South Africans to claim back land from which they were forcibly removed due to the 1913 Natives Land Act and later apartheid laws.
A first period for lodgement was previously opened between 1994 and 1998.
Nkwinti said the situation with the Khoi and San was complex.
“It is actually quite complex, especially in the Western Cape. It is not confined to restitution law, but will create a project over time which will consider the Khoi and San because they were dispossessed much earlier than 1913.”
The Khoi, or Khoikhoi, were the herder people first encountered by early European sailors, settlers and explorers at the Cape. Archaeological evidence suggests they started moving into the region from the north from about 1 800 years ago.
They are distinct from the indigenous San, or Bushmen, whose presence across large portions of the sub-continent can be traced back for tens of thousands of years.
There are several groups in South Africa today – especially in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape – who lay claim to Khoikhoi and, to a far lesser extent, San ancestry.
Nkwinti said the government had received a report from representatives of both groups.
“We are looking at that. We have got a first report from the Khoi and the San. We have said to them, what do you advise the government to do? What do we do about yourselves first, and then about the kind of programme you think we should pursue?”
He would submit the report to the president.
Nkwinti said the government was “worried” that destitute and impoverished South Africans will opt for financial compensation instead of land, now that the second phase of the land claims process has reopened.
Nkwinti said the act now paves the way for victims of land dispossession to lodge their land claims for a period of five years until 2019.
“This (choosing money) is an important point. The restitution of land rights law is about just that, getting people back to the land.
“We are worried about this thing that people are going in the main for money because it tells you that poverty, unemployment and this thing of people not being able to live a good life, in other words sustainable livelihoods, it tells you that there’s a problem there,” said Nkwinti.
The minister was responding to a question on whether the government would actively discourage claimants from choosing land instead of money.
He said a lot of work still had to be done in dealing with unemployment, poverty and inequality. “Land is critical in this regard if we want to resolve this question of endemic poverty and unemployment in our country. This is where really it all begins, in the land. But they must work the land, not just to have the land but people must work the land.”
He said currently there are 8 471 claims lodged before the 1998 cut-off period that have not yet been settled or resolved.
“These have been prioritised for settlement,” said Nkwinti.
The new process has not been without its critics.
DA MP Thomas Walters said his party was “deeply concerned” that Zuma signed the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill and the Property Valuation Bill into law, despite having received a petition from the DA to refer the legislation back to the National Assembly in terms of Section 79 of the constitution.
“He has done this without demonstrating that he took these constitutional concerns seriously, and has not communicated with members of Parliament adequately regarding the petition,” said Walters.
He said he will be writing to both Zuma and the state law adviser in order to determine whether the president “fully applied his mind” before signing the two pieces of legislation into law.
The EFF earlier rejected the reopening of land claims through the Restitution of Land Rights Amendments Bill.
“The Restitution Act was the first act promulgated by the democratic government in 1994. However, it has failed dismally in the past 20 years to restore stolen land to the people,” said EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.
He said the process is “super expensive” and was evidenced by the recent Mala Mala Game Reserve claim which was settled at more than R1 billion at the state’s cost.
Ndlozi said the only solution to the land question is “land expropriation without compensation”.