A step closer to the re-opening of land restitution claims in South Africa

On 25 February 2014, the national assembly passed the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, which will in its current form allow for new land restitution claims to be lodged until 30 June 2019. Many of those who were dispossessed of land missed the original deadline of 31 December 1998, and thus were denied redress. The Department of Rural Development’s assessment of the original process identified shortcomings, resulting in the recommendation to reopen the process.

The Bill will now be considered by the National Council of Provinces, before it can become law.

While the passing of the Bill is an exciting development for the many who were shut out of the process owing to lack of information or poor support in the 1990s, it is noteworthy that the budget of the Commission which handles land restitution claims has been repeatedly cut in recent years. The Commission currently sits with a backlog of claims, many of which appear to be stuck, with claimants and the Commission unable to agree upon a resolution. With an influx of new claims likely, it is hoped that the Commission will be empowered with a suitable budget, and that mechanisms will be adopted to finalise outstanding claims, some of which date back as far as 1995.

Claims arising from dispossessions that occurred after 19 June 1913 are currently the only ones considered. This is due to a provision in the Bill of Rights which entitled people to redress for racial dispossessions after that date only. The Department of Rural Development has noted that this has excluded claims by Khoi-San communities who were dispossessed in earlier times, and has undertaken to make efforts to address this matter.