Covid-19 hampers land claims process
South Africa's slow land claims process is set to face even more delays - this time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The commission on restitution of land rights told parliament on Tuesday that they had to revise the number of claims to be settled and to be finalised due to lockdown restrictions.
Land settlement involves research and investigation into whether a claim is legitimate, while finalisation means the land has been transferred or, if there is monetary compensation, the money has been paid out.
The commission had set itself a target of 2,150 claims to be settled in the next five years, and 2,200 claims to be finalised in the same period. This, it said, was in line with its current capacity and budget allocation.
In the current financial year, the commission was hoping to settle 454 claims, but has now reviewed the figure to 244 due to Covid-19 and the lockdown regulations.
A whopping 7,743 claims are still outstanding from the claims process that started in 1998.
The majority of outstanding claims are in KwaZulu-Natal (3,415), followed by Mpumalanga (1,412) and Limpopo (1,192). There were 695 outstanding cases in the Eastern Cape, 495 in the Western Cape, 441 in Gauteng, 51 in Northern Cape, 37 in the North West and five in Free State.
"We are striving to have a strategy that can accelerate [so] that we can do more or all as soon as possible," said Sunjay Singh, the commission's chief director for service delivery coordination.
The commission said it revised the target for this year because their work required lots of engagement with people in communities, in terms of verification, the signing of settlement agreements and stakeholder analysis.
"All those engagements would certainly have an impact in terms of our delivery," said Singh.
This was the same reason for revising the target for the finalisation of claims, from an initial target of 479 to 295.
The commission has a budget of R3.3bn for the 2020/21 financial year, with almost R2.6bn of that money set aside for restitution grants.
Chief land claims commissioner Nomfundo Gobodo said they were working on a comprehensive backlog reduction strategy that will give clear indication of what timelines would be practical and what would be the cost of fast-tracking the claims.
"We anticipate that by September we should have the backlog reduction strategy, which should be able to tell us how long it will take us to finalise claims, bearing in mind that it will have cost implications," she said.
Gobodo said the strategy will have to be supported by the National Treasury because it will have cost implications.
"If you look at the baseline in general of the number of claims we settle per year, we finish our allocated budget every year. If we are going to condense the settlement of the outstanding claims, we would then need additional resources," she said.
"We don’t want to thumbsuck and hence a strategy would be able to assist us."
Land reform minister Thoko Didiza said the strategy would still be indicative because the finalisation of some of the matters was out of the commission's hands and depended on the time that land owners take in entering into negotiations when their land may be under claim.
Didiza said the claims under state land are resolved faster.
DA MP Noko Masipa warned that at the current rate the commission was moving, it would at least 26 years to finalise the claims.
He suggested that the department brings in industry stakeholders to assist with speeding up the land claims process.
"As a committee, we should be concerned - there is no progress that is going to be made in the next couple of months and up to a year," said Masipa.