Durban - The reopening of the land restitution claims process has unsettled many KwaZulu-Natal commercial farmers, who fear they might lose their land in King Goodwill Zwelithini’s blanket claim to regain the entire province for the Zulu nation.

More than

100 farmers attended the 16th annual KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) congress in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday. This year’s theme was “Property rights in South Africa: are they at risk?”

This was to address the concerns of agricultural body members following the signing into law of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill in June. The Bill gives claimants until June 30, 2019 to lodge their claims. The Ingonyama Trust, under the leadership of Zwelithini, has vocalised its intention to claim all of KZN and parts of neighbouring provinces.

The reopening of land claims was the elephant in the room on Thursday as both Deputy Minister of Agriculture Bheki Cele and provincial MEC Cyril Xaba skated around the issue.

Retired Land Claims Court Judge Antonie Gildenhuys spoke on the impact of the reopening of the restitution claims and dispelled some myths. He told farmers not to panic because not all the claimants would get the land they wanted, and recent reports from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform showed that most preferred financial compensation.

“There are communal claims which might be found invalid where people who previously occupied land where they or their fathers worked, want to claim the whole farm,” he said.

Judge Gildenhuys said there was a feeling of “bitterness” among those who were dispossessed as well as farmers, but both parties needed to reconcile their emotions and let the process run its course. “It took America 32 years to finalise all its land claims. I hope it doesn’t take that long in South Africa,” he said.

The judge expressed concern over the funding (to pay compensation) and capacity of the Land Commission, and said: “If we have inadequacy in either, then we are going to have unnecessary delays, which won’t be good for the economy”.

After the congress, Cele said that his department would work with claimants. “We won’t allow agricultural land to lie unfarmed after the claims… so if the claimants don’t approach us, then we will go to them,” he said.

Xaba said one of the reasons why some of the previously claimed land had not remained productive after being given back to the claimants was that only land restitution, and not reform, had been given priority.

He said the departments of Rural Development and Agriculture needed to work together. “This will prevent the farmer from stripping the farm of all its machinery,” he said.

Xaba was against communal farming and said that knowledgeable people or agencies needed to run claimed farms.

The Mercury