The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) made presentations to the Portfolio Committee on the release of state land for reform purposes and on the progress relating to the petition submitted to the Speaker of the National Assembly by Western Cape Land Claimants. The Committee was particularly interested in establishing the reasons for the delays in disposal of state land to Western Cape land claimants. The Chairperson was perplexed as to why the City of Cape Town was not present at the meeting. He felt that transfer of land belonging to the City of Cape Town to claimants could not be fully discussed without their contribution.
The Regional Land Claims Commissioner submitted a Claims Progress Report to the Portfolio Committee quarterly in response to matters raised in the petition. The next report was due in February 2012. The processing of claims was envisaged to be spread over two financial years, being finalised by December 2013, depending on the processes and budget allocations. The Commission was having ongoing discussions with relevant national, provincial and local authorities to identify and release suitable state land, where necessary. Monthly meetings with the City of Cape Town were proving to be fruitful. The challenge with state land, which was currently being addressed, was who controlled it and on what basis. The Commission had developed a document to ensure that custodians were aware of the investigation of land claims and to ensure certainty regarding ownership.
In terms of previous legislation, because no part of the Western Cape was ‘homeland’ pre-1994, DRDLR did not own state land in the Western Cape, except for land acquired in terms of the Provision of Land and Assistance Act of 1993, between 2006 and 2011. This land was used for land reform purposes. In the Western Cape, both the Provincial Departments of Transport and Public Works were custodians of the state land.
In terms of land reform opportunities in the Western Cape, there was some land controlled by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Although the land was currently in the control of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, because the Agricultural Credit Act was repealed by the Agricultural Debt Management Act, the land could no longer be disposed of by the Minister of Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. It could only be disposed by the Minister of the Department of Public Works.
Another challenge was that there was no central database of land claims. When a claim necessitated a response, it was responded to by the relevant department concerned. Although DRDLR had an asset register, the quality and accuracy of the data was continually being improved and it was not finalised. Although the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) provided for transfer of assets from one accounting officer to another, there was no PFMA in 1994 and some Departments did not have electronic records of state land. There was also an absence of some records. Further, there was no practical handover when new government took charge of state land administration. Owing to how the land was registered, the process involved the deeds office having to determine which land belonged in which department and this process corrupted the asset register. The reason for qualifications had been outlined in the presentation on the Annual Report and was a subject for another discussion.
Members asked which authority was responsible for disposal of land belonging to tribal authorities; for clarity on where the power was vested when it came to the final allocation of communal land; what DRDLR’s position was in the case whereby a community with a legitimate claim failed to lodge a claim timeously, yet the land continued to be unoccupied
Members were concerned that the delays were beyond the control of DRDLR, yet grievances from the public were consistently directed at DRDLR. They asked how far the DRDLR was in the process of finalising the asset register; why, if the asset register was 90% complete, there were still problems with delays; if the law could be amended so that one department controlled the asset register for the country; and when the procedure document for state land claims would be available.
The progress on the land claims in the Western Cape was then described and listed (see document) and the Western Cape Departments of Human Settlement and Rural Development and Land Reform, as well as the regional manager from the National Department of Public Works, contributed to the discussion by explaining their role in the Provincial State Land Disposal Committee.
Members asked how DRDLR would ensure that the claims would be fast-tracked; how the number of claimants and the validity of claimants was verified; if there was a timeframe for verification and a deadline for claims; and for more concrete facts, such as the number of claimants per claim and how many claimants could be accommodated on the disposed land.
Members also asked if, since the Commission had to utilise all available state land and since the document in the Director-General’s office would divulge how state land would be disposed (once it was signed by the Director-General), a list could be shared with the Committee on all available state land, as well as which department, province, or city was responsible for disposal of that state land. They also asked if a shortage of land claims court judges could further delay land disposal and what progress had been made with the code of conduct of officials with regard to their interaction with the public.
The Chairperson said that the Restitution Act of 1994 surely envisaged prioritising poor people, not whether Departments would be willing or not willing to release land for restitution purposes. Perhaps the public were not aware of the processes, but Parliament had the responsibility to find out the truth about land disposal for land reform. The challenge to understand what caused land reform delays in South Africa was beyond the delays on the part of the DRDLR. It was a serious national question to be addressed in the current year. He suggested that the Committee meet with the outstanding provincial departments of Public Works and Transport, as well as the municipalities and South African Local Government Association (SALGA).
The Chairperson also requested that DRDLR provide its asset register on Bantustan land and land reform in Bantustan areas, as well as a report on land disposal of all provinces, including pre 2009. He also requested that in February, the DRDLR should prioritise sharing the Special Investigation Unit findings with the Committee (as requested the previous year), which related to DRDLF officials abusing land.
Finally, the perception by the public was that DRDLR was failing in its duty to make land, which was owned by Departments, available for reform. The problem of delays needed to be solved, not only in provinces, but also nationally. There had to be something wrong with the law that a Commission had to negotiate release of land that belonged to the state. The Committee was responsible for answering to the nation why claimants could not access land.
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