Restitution of Land Rights Act reversed

Concourt says land bill “improperly” passed

…,sent to clients 25 August….  The Constitutional Court has upheld anconstitutional-court application that amendments to Restitution of Land Rights Act were improperly processed by Parliament.  The Bill was tabled by Land Reform Minister, Gugile Nkwinti.

Groupings opposed to the legislation successfully argued that the amending Bill went through Parliament without sufficient consultation with affected parties.

The proposal made by the Bill was that further claims may be lodged going back to the 1913 Natives Act but the Bill, about to become an Act, had been in any case “put on hold” for 24 months to allow for existing outstanding claims, some 8,000 of them in terms of previous legislation, to processed first.

Existing claimants brought that particular application against the Bill on the basis that those who lodged claims under the new amendment to the Act would be “jumping the queue” and their claims might or were being ignored. The re-opening of the restitution of land process was therefore greeted by a mixed re-action, a fact not expected by the ANC amongst the populace concerned.

More haste less speed

madlangaOnce again the particular habit now regular of the governing party of hammering legislation through Parliament at the last minute before recess has bounced back on the Cabinet and the Presidency.    Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga said in his finding that the Constitutional Court could find “no cogent reason” for the apparent haste to sign the Bill into law.

He said that there had been a complete lacking in the required public consultative process by all nine provinces as the Bill went through the NCOP process of approval. He described Parliament’s behaviour with regard to the passage of the Bill as “improper”.

How it started

When the Bill was first tabled in a meeting of the National Assembly’s Rural Development and Land Reform Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, Minister Gugile Nkwinti confirmed that the whole process of land restitution for black persons dispossessed of their land was to be re-opened for a period of five years.

Under questioning,he confirmed that no constitutional changes were envisaged, despite the fact that the new Bill would mean an Act that backdated claims to 1913.    Critics of the Bill noted at the time that the tabling of such legislation was, as they put it, “politically motivated” in the light that it was being processed before national elections and with the then forthcoming provincial elections in mind just around the corner. The outcome of those elections would confirm the Minister’s fear and that of the Cabinet.

Critics also stated that there was insufficient time to process the Bill properly. ANC MPs chose to ignore this warning. Thw whole process has therefore been a waste of public funds.

In the kitty

Minister Nkwinti then announced that Cabinet had set aside R47bn for theGugile_Nkwinti envisaged exercise over a period of five years. Opposition members were again alarmed, stating the country had neither the resources nor court time to process such a plan and, in any case, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform was already facing an uphill struggle to process and finalise the existing claims it had on their books. Opposition members also called for sight of Treasury approval.

During the course of the Minister’s departmental presentation on strategy leading to the budget vote a week later in Parliament, when confronted by opposition MPs asking for a direct answer as to whether he would call for constitutional change on property rights or not, he replied that there was “no such question arising.”

The whole truth

Since that time the tandem Expropriation Bill has also been returned to Parliament unsigned and similarly passed in haste before a recess but, in this case, in the light of a possible adverse opinion by the Constitutional Court.

Minister Nkwinti chose to issue a statement on the the passage of the Expropriation Bill upon its being voted through the National Assembly although not in the domain of his Ministry.

cronin2This statement completely contradicted the declared motivations of Deputy Minister of Public Works, Jeremy Cronin, who had steered that Bill through Parliament declaring his legislation to be necessary for public works to execute infrastructure projects.

Nkwinti’s statement  claimed  that the Expropriation Bill “would bring about the possibility of at last of speeding-up land restitution and reform” thus laying the groundwork of his new land Rights Bill and contradicting the assurances of Cronin.

The numbers game

In his original briefing on the tandem Restitution of Land Rights Bill, Minister Nkwinti stated at the time that since its inception, the state’s restitution programme had benefited some “370,000 households”.    Normally one refers to “claimants” but it was his way of getting to his point using self-serving mathematics.

This meant, he said, that some “1.83m persons had benefited so far from theland-reform process, as against an estimated 3.5m people who had been forcibly removed from their land as a result of colonialisation and racial and discriminatory laws”.

A new closing deadline for lodgement of land claims was set by the Act as mid-2019 and a booklet on how to lodge a claim published.  Mobile lodgement offices were to visit all areas, the department told subsequently told MPs, and the lodgement process required no fees.

Tough words

Whilst the Constitutional Court has now re-affirmed that the right to restitution “could not be overstated” and that “restitution of land rights equals restoration of dignity”, Justice Madlanga was not prepared to overlook the fact that the time line of the parliamentary process had been manipulated.

“As an example, the process of public participation in the Northern areas was reduced to a shambles by haste”, he said, “and as a result of the truncated process of the NCOP, the whole parliamentary procedure had been tainted”. The NCOP was found to have “not applied its mind to the task.”

Give it time

Pending re-enactment of the Act, the Commission on Restitution on Landland-claims-court Rights may continue to receive claims and acknowledge receipt but only process them once existing outstanding claims that had a closing deadline of 1998 are finalised. After 24 months, further consideration can be made on the possible re-enactment of the legislation.

In conclusion, Opposition parties fear that the new Act will allow traditional chiefs with the additional powers granted in terms of legislation favoured by President Zuma to supersede rights on land already granted to communities.

One way only

Disquiet was also expressed by some MPs with the land acquisition claim alternatives as financial compensation was mainly the choice for claimants.

Some MPs expressed the view that they were “uncomfortable” with a monetary solution as a solution to dispossession since this almost amounted to a bribe.

DA MP Thomas Walters said in his view the reason for the slow rate of land occupation was not, as the ANC claimed, the result of whether or not there was a solution on the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle but rather a reflection of the fact that 92% of land claimants preferred to take cash pay-outs instead of working the land and creating jobs.

Minister Nkwinti strongly denied this as did the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

Previous articles on category subject
New approach to land reform – ParlyReportSA
Land reform: Something very sad is going on – ParlyReportSA
Minister says need for legislation on land reform a priority
Agri-SA gives views on minimum wage – ParlyReportSA

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