New Land Court ‘will help to clear backlog of claims’
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THE Vumelana Advisory Fund, a non-profit organisation that helps communities in the land reform programme to develop their land after a settlement, said yesterday that the Land Claims Court was battling to deal with the backlog of old order land claims and this had left many land claimants disgruntled and frustrated.
Vumelana had facilitated 19 partnerships that had the potential to mobilise an investment of about R970 million, putting nearly 70 000 hectares into productive use and benefiting 14 500 households.
Vumelana’s chief executive, Peter Setou, said the backlog of land claims was attributed to the absence of permanent judges and insufficient staff to process claims efficiently and timeously. “In addition, appeals against a ruling by the Land Claims Court can only be decided by the Supreme Court of Appeal, and those take a long time to finalise,” said Setou.
Vumelana said it welcomed the progress with efforts to establish a new Land Court.
The Land Court Bill proposed to abolish the Land Claims Court and replace it with a specialised Land Court and Land Court of Appeal with a limited lifespan to deal with claims for the restitution of land. The bill aimed to speed up outstanding land restitution claims.
“Our view is that the passing of the bill is a step in the right direction, as this will facilitate the expeditious disposal of cases and contribute towards the development of appropriate jurisprudence in relation to land matters,” Setou said. “This development will promote equitable access to land, which is necessary for the restoration of dignity and justice to thousands of communities who were forcibly removed from their ancestral land,” he said.
The Land Court would be a high court, because it would have the authority, legal powers and standing in relation to matters under its jurisdiction equal to that of a division of the High Court of South Africa, in terms of the Superior Courts Act.
Setou said a coherent policy, guiding legal framework and capable institutions with clearly determined mandates were key to successful land reform. By contrast, the Land Claims Court was not appropriately resourced to deal with land claims and other land-related matters. “This has been one of the obstacles to speedy resolution of land claims,” he said.
Vumelana said the high-level Motlanthe Panel Report and the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform both argued for stronger judicial oversight over land claims, which would lead to better settlements, reduce the scope for corruption and avert the bundling of claims into dysfunctional mega-claims that led to conflict. “As an example, a dedicated Land Court will ensure that the necessary feasibility assessments are conducted before a claim is settled, which is key to sustainable land reform.”
Setou highlighted that civil society had for many years been advocating for changes to the Land Claims Court.
He said the presidential advisory panel had even recommended the establishment of a National Land Rights Protector to manage higherlevel conflict, particularly between the state and citizens.
“In its response, however, Parliament felt that the expanded mandate of the Land Courts Bill should be able to address this recommendation.
Vumelana welcomes this new development. The promulgation of the bill will capacitate the Land Claims Court and expedite the resolution of outstanding land claims.”
The Minister of Justice has sent the bill to the National Assembly for consideration.
In October last year, when a parliamentary delegation visited the Northern Cape town of Upington, residents called for the urgent settlement of outstanding land claims.
Although the residents held divergent views on amending section 25 of the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation, they were united in their call for the settlement of the outstanding land claims.