Native Land Act 1913 legacy reversal: Parliamentary oversight and campaigns

Rural Development and Land Reform

25 March 2013
Chairperson: Mr S Sizani (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

A parliamentary content advisor briefed the Committee on a proposal for a parliamentary campaign on what the country had done to reverse the legacies of the Native Land Act, which was passed on 19 June 1913. It was proposed that the centenary of this be marked with parliamentary debates, and that the new legislation to extend the time frames for the making of land claims be signed on that day. The presentation outlined the legacies of the Native Land Act, and the implications that it had for social, and economic development and access until its repeal. However, it was also noted that the process of land redistribution had been slow and fraught with difficulties, with the result that South Africa would not meet its own target to have 30% redistribution of white-owned agricultural land by 2014.

The project would take the form of a Parliamentary campaign focusing on agrarian transformation and rural development, and would provide Parliament with an ideal opportunity to engage with society on issues of land reform. It would address the need to speed up the transfer of land and to support productive use of transferred land. It would also promote accountability by executive authority on matters related to land reform. It was intended to take the debates through the provincial legislatures also, and members of committees were encouraged to visit farms and assess the strengthens and weaknesses of redistribution to date. Members were also encouraged to take up the issues and explain the implications to traditional leaders and their constituents. The provincial visits would culminate in a debate in the National Assembly in June.

Members expressed concerns about the tight time frames in which to complete the provincial debates and site visits, particularly in view of the schedule for budget debates in June. They asked what alternatives were to be proposed to the willing buyer / willing seller principles, noted the failures of the process in the past, and were worried that the Commission on Land Restitution may not have the capacity to attend to the new process. They urged that solid guidelines and communication should back up the process and there should be elimination of fraudulent claims. They noted that coupled with this there was a need also to address the question of improving access to markets for emerging farmers, and the need to raise awareness in municipalities, councillors and traditional leaders. They questioned what policies were in place currently, and whether the issues of individual land claims, as opposed to claims by traditional leaders, had been addressed. They agreed unanimously with the principle of the campaign, and would divide the Committee into smaller teams who could visit the provinces, while the three portfolio committees within whose mandate this fell would make formal application for  funding.

Meeting report

Parliamentary adviser’s briefing: A Century of racial land divisions in South Africa: Parliamentary oversight for the reversal of the legacies of the Native Land Act, 1913”
Parliamentary content advisor, Mr Tshililo Manenzhe, tabled a research paper entitled “A Century of Racial Land Divisions in South Africa: Parliamentary oversight for the reversal of the legacies of the Native Land Act, 1913”, and explained that there was a proposal that Parliament itself should drive a campaign to evaluate what progress had been made in reversing the legacy of the Native Land Act (NLA), No 27 of 1913. The program would focus on a faster pace of land redistribution and the reopening of the lodgement of land claims. Together with The Development Trust and Land Act, and the Group Areas Act, that Native Land Act had the effect of prohibiting ownership and rental of land by black Africans. These policy mechanisms had manifested themselves in unemployment, persisting poverty and deep inequalities. The National Development Plan (NDP) spoke about triple challenges that the country was facing, many of which were legacies of the NLA. Land reform was mentioned in Section 25 of our Constitution as an important area to address.

In the 2013 State of The Nation Address, the President noted that 2013 marked the centenary of the 1913 Native Land Act. 2013 also marked19 years of attempting to reach the target of redistributing 30% of white-held agricultural land to landless people. It was clear that South Africa would not meet that 2014 target. Land redistribution was not resolved in South Africa and this fact made it difficult to achieve a socially cohesive society. 

The proposed parliamentary project would take the form of a campaign for agrarian transformation. It was proposed that nation wide events be held to note the promulgation of NLA. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) would organise many events throughout 2013 in various universities to highlight and discuss the role of Parliament in this debate, also ensuring that the executive was accountable.

Parliament would focus on oversight for restitution, with key issues being the reopening of the process for lodgment of land claims, finalisation of the existing land claims, and a faster pace of land redistribution. The project centred on the principle of public participation and it would be assessing the performance of the Commission on the Restitution on Land Rights (CRLR) as well as government as a collective, to address the challenge of land reform. The Department of Public Works (DPW) was a key partner to this project.

The project commenced in March but it would be peaking in June when the proposed debate in the National Assembly was to be held. After June, it was recommended that the portfolio committees on Rural Development and Land Reform, Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, and Public Works should consider adopting and incorporating some of the issues into their day-to-day oversight activities. Once again, it was proposed that public participation was vital. The whole project should be overseen by the Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform.

Two major challenges faced South Africa with regard to land reform. Firstly, there was a need to speed up the transfer of land and to support the productive use of transferred land. The Green Paper on Land Reform acknowledged that South Africa needed radical mechanisms to address the consequences of both the colonial and apartheid land policies.

The opening of lodgement of restitution had implications for legislative amendments. It further raised questions about the capacity of the DRDLR, and the capacity of the CRLR to speed up finalisation of land claims. It would also need to take into account settlement patterns and production relations that supported inclusive growth and development. This project would allows Parliament to take a central role in the debates about agrarian transformation.

The purpose of this project would be to reverse the injustices of racial land divisions and to create sustainable livelihoods for beneficiaries of the land reform programme. The project would create opportunities for engagement with both members of the public and stakeholders, as well as giving agricultural support to smallholders and emerging commercial farmers. The project would entail a greater understanding of systems that would then need to be put in place for the re-opening of lodgement of land claims. It was intended that there should be documentation of the overall findings and observations of this project, explore policy implications, and identification of  pertinent issues for further oversight and implementation by government departments.

Four particular areas had been identified as those where key questions needed to be answered, as follows:

- Restitution: it would be necessary to question the practical steps put in place by the CRLR to ensure the reopening of the lodgment of the land claims by June 2013. Inquiries should be made as to whether the Commission had developed clear guidelines on who was entitled to claim and how they should go about the claiming process.
- Redistribution: it would be necessary to identify the policy guidelines towards implementation of alternatives to the willing-seller / willing buyer approach to land acquisitions. It would also be necessary to examine to what extent the programme of redistribution assisted towards the creation of smallholder farmers in South Africa. It would be necessary to investigate the impediments to expropriation of land, in the public interest.
- Post-settlement and agricultural support: it would be necessary to identify the support needs for all the categories of land reform beneficiaries, including the black commercial farmers with potential to become large-scale farmers. There was also the need to find out and document the infrastructure development programmes in farming areas where there was a high density of land reform projects.
- Land Tenure: Investigations were needed into how the existing challenges confronting farm dwellers and workers, and commercial farmers or landowners, could be addressed. It would be necessary to investigate and isolate the alternatives in order to discover the most acceptable tenure arrangements for citizens living in former Bantustans.

The project was still at the early stages of the process, and the Parliamentary advisers were still taking this through to the other portfolio committees, to try also to ensure that it was run in collaboration with the provinces. There was still as need to finalise the funding approval from the National Assembly, for the resources needed. The major work would be done in the form of provincial workshops around the issue of land reform, and the state of land reform in each province. However, it was also proposed that that farm visits would be included to compare practical success and failures.

Another proposal was to have a provincial legislature debate, where land reform would be debated on within a national workshop, in order to move further and propose solutions. The project should lead to contributions in policy making and policy documents in South Africa. The project would then peak in a debate in the National Assembly around June.

A Member asked the presenter to unpack the objectives of the NLA, which had basically prohibited Africans, at that stage, from purchasing or leasing land. She asked if that had fully changed today and if Africans were able to purchase and lease land freely today.

Another Member asked what alternative proposals there were to replace the willing buyer /willing seller principles. He wanted to know if it was intended that the site visits be conducted by a number of portfolio committees, or only that on Rural Development and Land Reform. Finally, from a logistical viewpoint, he pointed out that the National Assembly would be voting on the budget in June, and this might not allow for the NLA debate to happen during that time.

He noted that the Committee also would need to engage with the CRLR as to exactly when the land claims would be opened.

Another question related to the practicalities of rural farmers producing goods if no one purchased them.

Another Member wondered if the sole responsibility for the re-opening of lodgment claims lay with the CRLR. She believed that the Committee should perhaps revisit and review the Act before re-opening up the process. Furthermore it would be very necessary that the CRLR developed very clear guidelines on who was entitled to claim, and how they should go about the claiming, in order to avoid violence and dissatisfaction.

She agreed with her colleague that the timing was out; the budget vote debates did not leave enough time to conduct the provincial debates and the site visits.

Another Member questioned whether this Portfolio Committee had sufficient capacity to complete this process.

The point was also made that if the municipalities did not have sufficient knowledge on the background to this, and the current legislation, then the public also could not be expected to know. It was very important that the municipality hold workshops, so they knew exactly what was required of them.

Mr J Van der Linde (DA) agreed with his colleagues that it was unlikely that the timeframes now suggested could be followed, because of the budget vote process.

Mr van der Linde wanted the DRDLR to give clear reports on which claims were lodged, and which were settled, in which area, thus creating a clearer path from which to move forward. He foresaw that there might well be capacity constraints when trying to work through all the claims.

A Member made the point that originally the apartheid land commissions were established to investigate and report on areas that should be set aside as places where Africans would not be permitted to obtain land. She asked if government was truly committed to the principle that communities, whose claims were supported by documents, must be given back their land. There were some communities with well-documented claims who had, despite requests, still not managed to get back the land.

Another Member asked if the DRDLR had yet addressed the issue of ownership of land by people living under the authority of a Chief, as there seemed to be uncertainty as to whether individuals could claim, or only the Chief. Individuals in the former Bantustans did not have the title deeds that established their right to the land, and he wondered if, in the new process, individuals rather than traditional leaders would be given the full legal right to a piece of land.

A colleague made the point that the “Bantustans” had ceased in 1994 and it was important to forget about them, and to deal with all areas, all around the country.

A Member said that there were various reasons for the slow pace of the land restitution programme. Members of Parliament bore the responsibility of dealing with disputes during the constituency periods. If there were a number of disputes over a particular piece of land, the DRDLR clearly could not finalise that claim and if the alleged beneficiaries could not resolve the questions, then somebody had to intervene. She also made the point that beneficiaries basically had a choice of getting restoration of the land, financial compensation or infrastructural development. Many beneficiaries who now lived in other areas, primarily the cities and towns, had no interest in going back to their land, and opted for financial compensation. In relation to lodgment, she said that many members of the public had missed the previous deadline for lodging claims and it was thus now the responsibility of Members of Parliament to strengthen the awareness campaign around the re-opening of the lodgement. The Department must research and verify all claims and do this thoroughly, to eliminate the false claims.

The Parliamentary adviser welcomed the questions, which went deeply into the issue that Parliament needed to address.

It was explained that the 1913 NLA prohibited ownership of land by Africans, in certain areas, and also specified particular areas where black people were allowed to buy land. In addition, this Act had prohibited rental of land to Africans in certain parts of South Africa. This was not only an issue of land, but it had affected the development of the economy in the country, leading to the situation where white farmers produced and black people provided labour. This Act was an attempt to take black people away from their land, forcing them to live in reserves, and therefore also making them dependent on wages from white farmers and mining companies. This had affected their development in the whole economic structure and access to capital.

The possible alternatives to the willing seller / willing buyer were being discussed. As yet, there was no concrete policy document in place but there were working groups within the DLRDLR and other departments that were discussing the alternatives. It was clear that South Africa needed a just and equitable approach to redistribution, but this had yet to be produced in the form of a definitive proposal.

The adviser noted the concerns about the timeframe and site visits, but the reason for making this proposal was that it tied in with the centenary of the NLA, which had come into force on 19 June 1913. It was projected that quite a lot of the work would be done before that, and the amendments to the current legislation, to allow for extension of claims, would be signed into law on 19 June 2013. The time frame was tight. However, it was intended that the committees should visit the provinces during oversight week. It was noted that one group would be able to cover two provinces, which meant that two and a half days could be set aside for each province, and during that week there should be no other debates scheduled. It would be desirable if Members of this Committee could go to the provinces for those workshops.

Parliament would want integrated support for agricultural projects and this process would in fact allow for more engagement on the weaknesses in the system, and look at improving markets that were not doing what they were intended to do. 

The point was also made that the policy guidelines were under review by the DRDLR, and Parliament was still waiting for them to be brought forward.

Finally, the adviser welcomed the comment on municipalities and traditional leaders, and said that this served to emphasise the point that it was necessary for Parliament to make the public more aware of the effects of the NLA, and what government was doing to redress the legacy of this piece of legislation.

The Chairperson addressed the meeting, noting the proposal for a debate and a joint sitting of the House in June. If the Portfolio Committee was to meet that deadline, it must prepare itself thoroughly and know exactly what would be debated, and the Committee Members therefore needed to research the issues to make a tangible contribution to the June debate. The provinces should also be engaging in the same debate and they would need guidance from the National Assembly. The Members must familiarise themselves and enrich their own understanding. They must all try to increase awareness, engage the Councilors and Traditional Leaders so that they also understood this project. It was the collective responsibility of all public representatives to answer questions from the public. Doing this would put more pressure of the Department of Public Works to release more land. It was necessary, in order to decrease lawlessness and illegal occupation of land, to urge the necessary departments to speed up the allocations of land and increase access by all people to land.

A representative from the Portfolio Committee on Public Works tabled a motion to move forward with the proposals, seconded by Ms P Xaba (ANC).

The Chairperson noted that there was no opposition to the motion.

The Chairperson noted that the next step would be for the Portfolio Committees on Public Works, Rural Development and Land Reform and Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries to submit resolutions to the House for funding to be granted to undertake the project. He suggested that this could be done in a joint document.

The Chairperson said that during the next meeting, the Committee would divide Members into four teams, each to visit separate provinces, and compile the budget. He suggested that the support staff for the Committee make proposals in that regard.

The meeting was adjourned. 


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