The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (the Department) briefed the Committee on the Land Rights Management Facility (LRMF), which was established in 2007 in answer to a Court order that Government should provide for an advice facility for those whose rights had been affected by the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act. The LRMF provided legal support and mediation services to farm workers and people staying on farms. It had established a number of call centres, staffed with people who spoke all eleven official languages, to screen and assess complaints and either deal with them immediately or refer them to a panel. The numbers of cases had increased, and there seemed to be increased awareness of the centres, which were now also being approached to assist with other advice and information. A service provider was to be appointed under a new contract but in time the Department intended to institutionalise the legal services. Members enquired how many officials manned each centre, what was the turnaround time and what challenges were faced. Members questioned, at some length, whether the Department was satisfied about the peoples’ awareness, whether the number was well enough publicised, whether the toll free number was the best option and what media had been used to notify the public about the centres. The Department conceded that it could do more to communicate the services. Members also wondered if government procurement systems were operating efficiently enough, commented that the centres did not seem to be integrated, and asked whether they were also supported by inspectors. The numbers of cases settled were interrogated.
The Department drew Members’ attention to the recent Constitutional Court judgment on the Communal Land Rights Act (CLaRA), stating that the effect had been to suspend CLaRA so that the legislation that it had repealed was now back in force. However, there was no vacuum in the sense that the Protection of Land Rights Act of 1996 protected the rights of people. The CLaRA had had the specific intention of requiring provinces to approach land administration in a more unified way. Members asked what would now happen, and said that the Committee would engage with the Executive on the plans for the future.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson said that it did not appear that the meeting would have a quorum, because of the number of apologies received. He also indicated that a number of Committee Members were apparently to be transferred to other committees, including Mr Swathe.
Mr M Swathe said that Members who had been moved would start their new duties the following week.
Land Rights Management Facility (LRMF): Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) Progress report
Mr Mduduzi Shabane, Deputy Director General, Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, said that the Land Rights Management Facility (LRMF) was established in 2007. The rationale for this was that formerly the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act made no legal provision for people whose rights were affected by these Acts. Subsequently, a Court order had compelled Government to establish a body that would provide support, and this was the LRMF, which would provide legal support and mediation services to farm workers and people staying on farms. Call centres were established to improve access for persons in need of assistance, at district and provincial levels, to receive complaints about evictions and infringements of rights. All complaints would be screened and assessed, and if the officials could not deal with such complaints directly, they would refer the matters to a panel for mediation or for legal services, who would then assess and determine the nature of intervention required. The Department would receive regular feedback at its provincial or district offices.
Mr Shabane noted that the total numbers of legal services cases had increased. This reflected an increased awareness in the role of the call centre, but there was still a need to increase that awareness. The contract to provide legal services had expired, and a new tender had been advertised for the next 18 months. Only a single service provider would be appointed. In time, the Department intended to institutionalise, and not to outsource legal services.
Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) asked how many officials were manning the call centre. She also questioned how the Department would give feedback to the complainants and what the turnaround time was. She further asked why the number of service providers was being reduced from two to one, and what challenges were faced.
Mr Shabane responded that at each station there would be someone who spoke each official language, plus a supervisor, which came to twelve people. The referrals were done immediately after the receipt of the complaint, where necessary. He thought that the main challenge was the lack of support for people who stayed on commercial farms.
Mr N Mandela (ANC) asked how efficient the call centre was, particularly since illiterate communities were not exposed to a lot of information. He asked whether people had been exposed to the call centre number.
Mr Shabane responded that when the Department had started with the Facility, it had put substantial efforts into publicising the launch. However, at some point the Department had to reduce these awareness campaigns. The Department had tried to use community radio stations to increase awareness. However, he conceded that this was a weak area in which more must be done.
Mr Swathe also was concerned whether people knew about the call centres. There had been situations where people had been evicted and they simply did not know what to do.
Mr Shabane pointed out again that there was a rise in the number of people using the call centres. However, it was true that the Department needed to intensify its awareness campaigns.
Ms D Carter (COPE) asked whether government procurement systems were responding to matters efficiently enough. She raised a question with regard to the accessibility of the toll free numbers and wondered whether the toll free numbers could not be substituted for access codes.
The Chairperson also raised the issue of the effectiveness.
Mr Shabane responded that the Department had seen a 100% rise in the number of people who were using the call centre. He stated that people were no longer using the call centre just to complain about the evictions but were now also using it to enquire about other programmes of the Department, such as how to acquire farms. Call centre operators had been trained in a broad understanding of the other programmes of the Department, so that they would not turn away people who needed assistance.
Mr Mandela pointed out that it seemed that the call centre was not an integrated structure, but an isolated one. He stated that there was no strategy that addressed farm employees and employers. He asked whether there was an integrated plan.
Mr Shabane responded that there had been engagement with organised agriculture, but he did not want to claim that it had been effective. However, in some provinces the farmers had been proactive in wanting to engage the services of the Department.
Ms Carter pointed out that her question on the efficiency of the government procurement system had not been answered. She also pointed out that the presentation should have given an indication of which cases dated from 2007 and which cases were from 2008.
Mr Shabane responded that the Department was trying to create an independent board which was not encumbered by bureaucracy. He stated that it had been effective, to the extent that the panel was not encumbered by having to follow the Department processes. However, there was room for improvement in communication and awareness. He pointed out that the Department was not in control of the turnaround processes in the courts, but that it could o an age analysis to show how long cases took to be finalised.
Mr Swathe asked whether the Department only relied on the call centre, or whether it also sent inspectors to enquire what was happening on the ground.
Mr Shabane responded that the Department did not have any inspectors, so it only relied on call centre agents.
Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked how many cases had been settled in favour of the occupiers.
Mr Shabane stated that out of the 207 cases that were finalised, 106 had been settled in favour of the occupiers, 19 were decided against the occupiers, 34 were settled by agreement and 23 cases had fallen out of the scope of the matter, and should not have been referred to the Courts.
The Chairperson urged that it would be important for the Department to consider all the issues that had been raised by the Members.
Mr Mandela asked how far entrenched the call centre was in representing the people. He also asked which law firms had been appointed to represent the people and how they had been appointed.
This question was not answered.
Mr Shabane thanked the Committee for raising these points and advice.
Communal Land Rights Act (CLaRA): Constitutional Court Judgment Implications.
Mr Shabane referred Members to the recent Constitutional Court judgment on the Communal Land Rights Act (CLaRA). The Department had no choice but to comply with the judgment. The effect of this had been that CLaRA was no longer in force, and therefore any law that had been repealed by it returned into force. There was no vacuum created by the judgment as the position reverted to what it had been formerly. The Protection of Land Rights Act of 1996 now applied again, and protected the rights of the people. Any future law that would be enacted would have to take full cognisance of the judgment of the Constitutional Court.
The Chairperson pointed out that Mr Shabane had not spoken about any processes beyond the law.
Mr Shabane responded that he had not spoken about any processes beyond the law because the Department had to be led by the Executive. Any process must, however, take full cognisance of the judgment of the Court.
Ms H Matlanyane (ANC) asked whether the repeal of CLaRA meant that the pre 1994 situation was now in force.
Mr Shabane responded that pre-1994 laws were in force.
Ms Ngwenya-Mabilia stated that there was not much that the Committee could say, other than to stress that it was waiting for the new legislation.
The Chairperson asked for an assurance that there was no gap.
Mr Shabane responded that there had been a very specific purpose for CLaRA, namely to get provinces to approach land administration in a unitary manner.
The Chairperson that the Committee would engage with the political heads to find out what plans were in place.
Consideration of previous minutes
The Chairperson asked Members to comment whether they thought that the documents tabled were an accurate reflection of the proceedings of previous meetings.
Ms Ngwenya-Mabila, Mr Mandela and Mr Swathe all agreed that they appeared to be correct.
The meeting was adjourned.
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