ConCourt freezes 100,000 land claims

29 July 2016 - 02:00 By KATHARINE CHILD

Over 100000 land claims were frozen by the Constitutional Court when it struck down the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act on Thursday.In a unanimous judgment the court struck down the act because it was rushed into law without proper consultation.The court said parliament had "failed in its constitutional duty" by not having adequate consultations."This is a significant judgment," said Legal Resources Centre attorney Henk Smith."It tells parliament to listen to the people."The act had opened up new land claims from 2014 until 2019, even though thousands of claims made before 1998 had yet to be heard.Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga ruled yesterday that all land claims made from 2014 - estimated to be between 100000 and 120000 - be "frozen" until outstanding claims from before 1998 were dealt with or the act was reworked properly by parliament. About 8000 land claims filed before 1998 have not been heard, according to state figures.But Smith disputed this, arguing in court that as many as 20000 land claims had been ignored over 18 years."People have been waiting for their land for 20 years. Some have died," said Constance Mogale, an applicant and spokesman for the Alliance for Rural Democracy.Commenting on the judgment, Aninka Claassens, of the department of public law at the University of Cape Town, said the act was controversial because it was rushed through parliament just before the 2014 national elections .At the time, President Jacob Zuma told tribal chiefs to "find good lawyers" to "make land claims on behalf of your people".Analyst Nick Branson, of the Africa Research Institute, said the act was more about vote-catching and political theatre than about meaningful rural change. Smith said that, under the new act, chiefs were given preference in new land claims to the detriment of the rural poor.One of the main objections to the act was that it did not stop new land claims being made after the land had already been claimed, said Mogale."It may seem counter-intuitive that the Constitutional Court has frozen land claims," Claassens said, "but it has confirmed what we believed."The law was being used cynically by the government to give it a reason to ignore the claims made before 1998."Claassens said the judgment was "significant"."The Constitutional Court is recognising the politics here. It is saying to the minister of land reform, and to President Jacob Zuma, 'You can't take a process that was meant for the poorest of the poor and give the land to chiefs'. The timing is significant."Chiefs were promised land before the last election and the Act rushed  though parliament."Now just before the next election the court says you are not getting away from this. " said ClaassensThe Constitutional Court acknowledged the importance of land reform in its judgment saying: "The right to restitution of land is sourced from the  constitution itself".Parliament,  the Department Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform together with the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights have noted the judgment by the Constitutional Court and said they would comply with the order...

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