Commission on Restitution of Land Rights Annual Report briefing

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
2 August 2007
COMMISSION ON RESTITUTION OF LAND RIGHTS ANNUAL REPORT BRIEFING

Chairperson:
  Ms D Hlengethwa (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Presentation of Commission on Restitution of Land Rights
Annual Report 2006/2007 Commission on Restitution of Land Rights

Audio recording of meeting

SUMMARY
The Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights presented its Annual Report for 2006/07 to the Committee and expressed confidence that matters were proceeding on the right track and following schedule to ensure that all the claims were met by the set target date of March 2008. The Commission reported that it had successfully spent its entire budget. The difficulties with land restitution were outlined and included delays in transferring land, difficulty in acquiring some land, both state owned and private, difficulty in confirming the correct beneficiaries, challenges with staff vacancies, and lack of support from other state departments. 40% of the beneficiaries were female-headed households. It was indicated that the Commission would actively assist claimants in processing their claims and in giving post-settlement support.  Commissioners had had the opportunity to go overseas and learn from other countries with similar situations.

Members expressed concerns whether the Commission would be able to meet its target date. They were also concerned about the high vacancy rates of staff that must inhibit effectiveness, whether there was enough monitoring of claimants and whether the claimants were given sufficient support to achieve viable use of the land. The Commission was asked to forward a list of the towns where the settlements had occurred, and it was suggested that oversight visits be undertaken. Members raised questions on the spending, the repayment of an amount to Treasury, the contractual arrangements with trainee staff and the situation in regard to various land claims, on which the Commission agreed to revert to the Members.

MINUTES
The Chairperson mentioned her disquiet that once again the Chief Commissioner was not present at the meeting. This meeting had been planned for the past two months, yet he was in Canada. She expressed that his primary duty was to appear before the Committee.

Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights (CRLR) Annual Report: Briefing
Ms Tumi Seboka, Acting Chief Land Claims Commissioner, CRLR, apologised again for the absence of the Chief Commissioner.
She tabled the Annual Report of the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights. The expenditure for on restitution awards for 2006/2007 was R2.1 billion. As at 31 March 74 417 claims had been settled, representing 93% of the lodged claims. So far 1.6 million hectares of land had been restored. There had been full spending of the budget for the last year. The CLRL was entering the most difficult part of the restitution process, which involved settlement of 5 247 outstanding rural claims. Challenges included protracted negotiations and claimant disputes taken to the Land Claims Court, community disputes and traditional authority problems and the need to align communal and commercial land practices. These challenges were being addressed with focused meetings, and development of a coherent strategy for strategic partnerships.

Ms Seboka mentioned that the proposed Special Purpose Vehicle should address the challenges. There had been financial support from the Belgian government. 40% of restitution beneficiaries were female headed households.

Highlights of the settled claims in each province were tabled, showing the communities benefiting. It was noted that the beneficiaries were farming a diverse range including livestock, vegetable production, game farming, granite production, citrus for export to Japan, beef and poultry farming. Eco tourism and the concept of “people and parks” were also being addressed through some claims. Some households were assisted to use their land for profitable farming projects. In Paarl, Goodwood, Parow, Kensington, Rondebosch and Bellville (Western Cape) financial compensation rather than land, amounting to R33 million, had been given.

The Business Processes were contained in the Annual Report. Ms Seboka noted that some of the steps were taking longer than originally anticipated, including land valuations. IT was hoped that the new Expropriation Bill would expand on the application of the Section 25 of the Constitution. A policy and mechanisms had been introduced to reduce and obviate false and fraudulent claims.

Ms Seboka noted that there were still challenges in implementing the legislation. The Land Restitution Act (LRA) required that the direct beneficiaries of land-deprived persons be identified and compensated. The practices of tribal living, illegitimate and adopted children and polygamous marriages, whether formally registered or informal in nature, presented the Commission with well nigh insurmountable problems in correctly identifying the direct beneficiaries of those who had been dispossessed of land. In addition the valuation of properties, the current high property prices, the lack of proper surveying of properties and the unregistered nature of many land ownership arrangements and rights, together with family disputes regarding land, all delayed restitution of land rights. Taking the claimants through this process was tedious and demanded patience, social facilitation skills, development planning experience and business process mapping expertise, conflict resolution skills and experience and advanced communication skills. In addition the conveyancing process, either for privately-owned or State-owned disposals, was lengthy.

A settlement and implementation strategy (SIS) had been developed to ensure comprehensive and sustainable support to all beneficiaries and to ensure that their quality of life was improved. The elements of the strategy were fully outlined in the presentation and the pillars of support included livelihood, enterprise and technical support, integrated natural resource management, capacity and institutional development, and area based planning, integrating with other plans. The grants were being released in phases. Pages 55 to 57 of the Annual Report gave more detail of the land use and support required and identified.

Diagrams were tabled showing the integration of the various Acts, integrated development plans and capacity development.

Ms Seboka outlined the cases settled by the Land Claims Court in brief, noting that the Popela Community v Goedgelegen Tropical Fruits set out some important principles on labour tenant status and was referred to the Constitutional Court.

The expenditure for the year ended 31 March 2007 was tabled. There had been a 99,99% total spend of R2.3 billion. The recruitment of Quality Assurance Directors was in the final stage. Risk registers and the Fraud Prevention Plan had been complement and the ID Buddy System for claimant verification had been introduced.

The number of claims settled was tabled and the strategies to settle outstanding claims were described. Land prices were still determined by the market forces, over which CRLR had no control but a National Valuation Review Panel had been appointed to assist to unblock challenges. There was a need for high political intervention for challenges with traditional leaders. Non availability of State land remained a challenge.

Ms Seboka tabled a list of human resources at the CRLR, and noted that the skills required of staff members were high, and in “reserved” areas, so that the Commission and associated Departments were competing in the same pool of skills, and often poached from or attracted staff from each other. Increased levels of stress from the workload, and the confrontational and aggressive attitude of many claimants, led to staff resignations. With the assistance of the department of Land Affairs there was ongoing work in this area in order to retain scarce skills.

Discussion
Dr A Van Niekerk (DA) asked about the different challenges that were faced in order to process the remaining of land claims.  He wanted to know whether the greatest challenge came from the claimant trying to obtain control of the land or the landowner who had to hand over land.
Commissioner Mashile Mokono, CRLR, replied it was both. Issues could also arise with several claimants vying for the same land. In some areas those issues had been resolved and in others it had not.

Dr Van Niekerk asked for a list of towns in which claims had been settled.

Ms Seboka answered that the information would be made available after the presentation.

Dr van Niekerk asked who looked after the property if claimants were not ready to take over the land.

Ms Seboka answered that the State would in this case appoint caretakers of that land until such time that the claimants could look after it. The land became the responsibility of the State under the supervision of the Department of Land Affairs (DLA).  Formal agreements were made, where inventories are taken and roles as well as time frames were outlined.

Dr van Niekerk found it disturbing when he looked at the Human Resources table, noting that a third of the people working at the Commission did not have any real experience within the Commission, and noting further that there was a vacancy rate of 42%. He asked to what extent did this inhibit the meeting of the target dates.

Mr J Lucas (IFP) mentioned that the 42% vacancy rate was not a good reflection of the Commission, and that he too considered it quite serious.

Ms C Nkuna (ANC) noted that one of the challenges faced with rural claims was the fact that there were no demarcations or specifications of the areas. She asked how far CRLR had gone in creating maps for those areas that previously had none.

Commissioner Mokono responded that the CRLR were talking about the rural areas specifically defined as the countryside. The majority of the claims remaining were rural and there were no tangible maps created for those areas.

Mr Lucas raised a question on the market forces, noting that this too could severely hamper the progress of claims.

Ms Seboka replied that this was a broad question that was bigger than the Commission.  Members were aware that in the policy review process there was re-thinking of the role of government in guiding, monitoring and influencing the market as it related to land. Whilst those processes were under way, the only tool the Commission had to conduct evaluations was the basis of the market prices.

Mr Lucas was of the view that going to other countries to learn from their experiences would not help the Commission much. South Africa’s numbers of disadvantaged people far exceeded those in other countries..

Ms Seboka concurred with the observation, noting that the visit was to attempt to improve processes, but it had been found that in truth South Africa was doing much better than some of the other countries and its policies were more advanced.

Mr Lucas said that there should be a follow-up with education to ensure that people looked after their land, and he asked if there were tools supplied to claimants.

Mr D Dlali (ANC) referred to the post-settlement planning process, which he had thought was in place already, as he had been hearing about it for five years.

Ms Seboka replied that the post-settlement strategy was going through a development process. A draft strategy was presented already to the Department.  Basically there were two options that were found as a result of consultation and assessment of the experiences on the ground. There had been progress made and as the strategy was developed CRLR had engaged with different stakeholders, without necessarily waiting for the Special Purpose Vehicles. These processes were continuing.

Commissioner Mokono added that the legislation that governed the Commission stated that its legal mandate ended when the land is handed over. However, it became incumbent upon the Commission also to assist in post-settlement support, although there was no legal obligation to do so. The CRLR were therefore playing a facilitating role and trying to deal with issues on the ground.

Mr J Bici (UDM) commented on the compensation as well as land that was given to certain claimants. He wanted to know what the compensation was for, and how the number of R30 000 was fixed.

Commissioner Jansen replied that there was a Standard Settlement Offer that was made to all claimants. It was based on the housing subsidy for tenancy and was currently at R38 000.

Ms Seboka said that CRLR could provide details of that specific claim. However there were some who received both land and monetary compensation.  This could happen because of a number of circumstances. The principle was that people should obtain an equitable restitution.

Ms Nkuna noticed the number of claimants outstanding and the target date set, and wondered if there were mechanisms in place to ensure that this could be met.

Mr Bici asked if CRLR thought it would meet the deadline.

Commissioner Seboka replied that CRLR had engaged in a rigorous process of review, and had come to the view that some of the difficult claims might not be settled by March 2008.  CRLR had engaged with the DLA, which of course would still be in place after March 2008, to discuss what would be the proper way to handle claims, in view of the organisational structure. Most claims would be settled by the deadline date and about 2% to  5% of claims would most likely be outstanding.

Mr Bici asked what was meant when it was said that the grants were being released in phases.

Commissioner Mokono replied that the grant funding that had been available had to be set up in a proper structure. A particular release strategy, using business strategy as a basis, was used and this also included monitoring mechanisms.

Mr Bici asked about the challenges with regard to the traditional leaders, and said the had assumed that they would be cooperating with the Commission.

Commissioner Mokono replied that CRLR would like the traditional leaders to work with it. In some areas there had been claimants who, at the time of their forced removal, were not part of a tribal authority, but now had been made part of a tribal authority. One particular traditional authority would state that the land should be registered in their name, even though that family was not part of the group when claims were made. It was the responsibility of the Commission to investigate those claims. They would also have to be aware of the political and social implications of their findings.

Mr Dlali asked why non-availability of state land had not been addressed yet.

Commissioner B Jansen replied that Western Cape was an example of the Commission’s dependence on state land, which was held by various State Departments. Although the asset register was used, it was not yet fully up to date, and CRLR was still having to write to different arms of State to ask for land that they were administering on behalf of government. Claimants were being encouraged to take land rather than financial compensation. However, when political leadership changed, there might have to be a change in policy. In Tamboerskloof, for instance, the Department of Public Works had previously agreed to release a property but this was now to be shared with others. Most municipalities also asked for payment for services made on the land.


Mr Dlali mentioned a piece of State land that was in contention for the past five years in Mpumalanga, owned by the Department of Public Works, of 80 hectares extent. There was a dispute over the amount offered, and apparently the Commissioner in Mpumalanga had been asked to adjudicate on the issue. He asked for an explanation.

Ms Seboka said that she would investigate the matter and revert  to the Committee.

Mr Dlali asked if there was already in place a process for appointment of mediation agents for disputes within the community.

Commissioner Mokono replied that this was in place, and that CRLR was attempting to ensure that all provinces had access to it.

Mr Dlali referred to a three-year outstanding claim regarding a tiny piece of land called Ongeluk Nek, and enquired as to the progress of that claim.

Once again Ms Seboka asked that the CRLR be permitted to investigate the matter in full and revert to Mr Dlali.

Mr Dlali noted that in Kwazulu Natal there was some problem with claims made by the King, and noted that there were apparently issues to be addressed urgently. He noted that if necessary the Committee would do oversight visits to lend its assistance.

Commissioner Mayo Sosibo replied that there were a number of issues and challenges.  The  landless Amakhosi were sometimes seeing the restitution process as the opportunity to acquire land for themselves and their subjects,but were often being overbearing in the view of their subjects, demanding that the land be restored to them. Overlapping claims between Amakhosi would take time to resolve. 

Commissioner Sosibo also added that there was a meeting with the relevant parties, but that no agreement was reached. There seemed to be confused perception of ownership of the land, and that needed to dealt with.

Mr Dlali raised the issue of the Human Resource issues and the lack of capacity in CRLR, saying that the structures within the Commission needed to be reassessed.

Commissioner Mahlangu referred to page 52 of the Annual Report and said that the vacancy rate had increased because of the new vacant posts. It was true that the vacancy rate was hampering the settlement claims. Land restitution was a very difficult task and many staff felt that other jobs with similar remuneration but less stress would be preferable to working for CRLR. The vacancy rate was a direct result of high turnover.

Mr Dlali thought CRLR was referring to the old vacancies, and suggested the use of interns.

Commissioner Mahlangu replied that CRLR had advertised for interns, who would be trained for a two year period.

Mr Dlali asked if there were any farms that had been expropriated, and if so, how many He also asked about processes undertaken.

Ms Seboka replied that she could provide statistics after the meeting.  The processes would continue to be negotiated as required.

Mr Dlali referred to the Commission’s financial performance.  It had been reported that R1 billion was surrendered to National Treasury for failure to spend money yet there had been reports that further was required for post settlement planning. He asked for an explanation.

Mr A Nel (DA) commented that if this amount was surrendered, then it was not correct to say that the full allocation had been spent.

Commissioner Mahlangu replied that around October he had been appointed as Chief Financial Officer, and had gone through a series of transitions in setting up the structures.  CRLR had then realised that it should release the money back to Treasury, as there would not be time to spend it all. However, the money for this financial year was spent very quickly and CRLR were already looking at the possibility to get that surrendered amount back into the budget.

Mr Nel had concerns about the sustainability of the restitution process. There had been construction of a consortium that should address to the Special Purpose Vehicle, which as yet had not been instated.  He wondered if the consortium were waiting for the Special Purpose Vehicles or if it was ready to resolve problems.

Mr Nel asked how many of the 5 297 claims remaining had been settled in the past four months.

Commissioner Mahlangu, said 122 claims had been settled thus far.

Ms M Nkompe-Ngwenya (ANC) noted the 42% vacancy rate and asked if this included any Commissioners. She noted that there were insufficient numbers of commissioners for the provinces, and that  Northern Cape and Free State shared a Commissioner. Here there were 329 land claims outstanding, with only one person to deal with them.

Ms Seboka replied that a recruitment process had been undertaken. Interviews had been held for Northern Cape and Free State and CRLR hoped to get an appointment soon. A Deputy Chief Land Commissioner had been interviewed, to provide support as required. The allocation of commissioners would be advised and guided by the numbers of cases, so that the staff complement might differ across  the provinces.

The Chairperson stated that recommendations were made to Cabinet.

Ms Nkompe-Ngwenya suggested that perhaps the Committee should undertake oversight visits to the projects in the different provinces.

The Chairperson mentioned that it would be necessary to get a breakdown of the towns before doing so.

Ms Ntuli asked if CRLR had made any formal arrangements with its trainees.

Commissioner Mahlangu replied that they would sign a contract.

Ms Seboka added that CRLR was in a process of conversion to permanent positions, and staff would be moved from the Department of Land Affairs across to the Commission, to address problems of quality.

The meeting was adjourned.


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