On the first day of the public hearings, many speakers expressed their concern that land claims that had been lodged, were still outstanding. They questioned how government would be able to re-open claims when it had not finalised already existing ones. Speakers highlighted maladministration and fraud being committed by government officials and expressed concern as to how they should be expected to trust their information to such officials. Mention was made that not enough publicising of the hearing had been done and people were not given enough time to prepare themselves for the hearing. Speakers also spoke about claims that predated 1913 and sought information about how they would be accommodated by the Bill. Many issues raised did not speak directly to clauses in the Bill but highlighted the context for broad-based concerns about implementation of the Bill and how it would ensure the fulfilment of claims.
Many community members were representing their families and relayed their stories of how long they had been displaced and how long they had been waiting to have their claims processed.
The Khoi San Chief presented the Committee with a map to illustrate the territory the Khoi San wanted to claim. He spoke on government opening up claims to the Khoi San to allow them to claim all the land they had been dispossessed of and not just landmarks as was currently allowed.
The community of Ndabeni had many speakers who spoke about the silence of councillors with respect to informing the community about the status of their claims.
Mention was also made by community members of the importance of chiefs and how they also needed to be included in the process.
Committee Members all expressed their delight that people had attended the hearing and made submissions and encouraged people to continue to prepare their claims and to make sure that they had the supporting documentation required to help prove their claims. Members re-iterated the purpose of the Bill and what it aimed to achieve to alleviate many of the concerns brought to the attention of the Committee. Caution was given to the people to note that the claims process had not yet been opened and Members encouraged parties not to lodge claims with individuals but to await word from the department about the opening of claims to ensure they were not defrauded.
Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill: public hearings (day 1)
Mr J Thibedi (ANC, Chairperson of the Committee) opened proceedings by briefly stating the background behind the Amendment Bill. When the land claims process had been closed in 1998, government went through an evaluation process to see how the first process had benefited South Africans. The evaluation revealed that many people missed the deadline; it also took note of the fact that many people lost their land before 1913, this was referring by and large to the Khoi and the San. He reminded people that the Constitution makes mention of people who lost their land from 1913 but makes no mention of those who had lost land before 1913. The President informed Parliament to investigate further to see the impact on such persons who lost their land before 1913.
Mr Thibedi outlined the issues that faced the former Act and what Parliament proposes in introducing the Amendment Bill. He spoke of the challenges that have been raised by many through the introduction of the Amendment Bill, namely the issue of re-opening claims when existing ones were not resolved, the challenge about how land will be utilized once land is redistributed and how government was looking to provide support. Other matters Mr Thibedi spoke on that currently faced government was that of expropriation of land where there is no agreement about selling price. This was due to government dealing with landowners that were inflating the price of their land. Government was looking towards a way of expropriating land in line with the principle in section 25 of the Constitution that was ‘just and equitable’.
The Chairperson noted that the Bill continues to make fraudulent claims an offence as well as incriminate those that seek to block others from making claims but it will increase the period of imprisonment.
Mr Thibedi said that an office would be established that would be comprised of people who understand law and property, which will require the examination of land before expropriation to ensure the best price is determined for the land. The process would be linked to the National Development Plan which lays out a vision for the country up to 2030.Mr Thibedi opened up the meeting to the public to make submissions.
Andreas April was speaking on behalf of his family through a translator. He said that he was lodging a Clanwilliam claim. He was unhappy and feels as if he has no rights as in his experience a lot of poor people are not being taken care of. He hopes Parliament does not only look after its own rights but also those of the community; that they visit the public but do nothing about the people’s issues.
Mr Maxanga, representing the community of Kensington spoke through an interpreter about the claims process closing in 1998. He was glad that the claims process has been re-opened and that the chairperson explained the process to them. He was not able to lodge a claim because he missed the cut-off date. He wanted to find out what would happen now with the introduction of the new Bill.
The ANC Women’s League from Welani Maxanga branch, Simonstown said that when the claims process closed in 1998 a group of people were paid money and another group were paid money in 2010. These same people were standing in the way of those still wanting to claim. When they approached Parliament they were told to wait for another opportunity. However, as it stands, the land they have claimed continues to be developed and firms are still continuing to build on that land.
Mr Mbulelo John, representing the West Coast community of Cedarburg and Matsikama, said that the community requests that the Bill be taken back to Parliament as Parliament failed to consult the community, the community should be given an opportunity to engage with the spheres of government and he requested the Portfolio Committee to finalise the current outstanding claims before they budget for the new claims. He said that the government must finalise the existing claims before opening new ones and they must consult rural communities for a longer time directly before finalising anything. He requested direct linkage between the community and government. He said that the government should be given until the end of February to hear how far they are with the claims.
A community member speaking on her own behalf said that she was alarmed at the type of people that were placed in government, that she wants to promote cultivating of land by individuals instead of seeking employment and that government should hand over land so that people could use it for themselves.
The Chairperson interrupted her to let her know that she was not speaking on the subject and requested her to write down her submission and place it in the box of submissions
Sizwe Mphuthini speaking through a translator, and, lodging a claim on behalf of his family, wanted to find out what his options were for claiming for a small holding farm in the Eastern Cape that had been lodged sixty years ago. The farm had been taken before 1910.
Another community member representing her family said that she was claiming on behalf of her family who is now all deceased.
Mr Matomelo, representing a newly established Gugulethu-based organisation, said they had lodged claims relating to Simonstown. He said that he had lodged a claim with one of the councillors and had since been trying to get answers from the councillor who he has not been able to reach.
The Chairperson interrupted asking him to summarise his submission and get to the crux of the matter as people in the audience were beginning to feel disgruntled as he was taking too long to make his point. He pleaded with the crowd to give the speaker a chance to finish what he was trying to say.
The gentlemen proceeded to say that he wanted the Committee to make sure claims being made were correct. He wanted to thank Parliament for considering re-opening claims and asked that the Committee scrutinise the claims to make sure they were genuine and not fraudulent.
A community member from Elsie' river said that he has not been able to claim land, he arrived in Nyanga in 1953 and was moved from Elsie's River under the Group Areas Act. He wanted answers as to why colonialists claimed to have a right to the land. He raised the issue of having to claim on behalf of parents who do not have certificates to prove their entitlement to the land.
Another member of the community from Ndabeni, speaking through a translator, raised a concern about instances where documentation to prove claims are lost. He wanted to know why government does not consult witnesses in order to verify claims in such instances instead of accusing claimants of attempting fraud. He said that since apartheid black people have always been threatened with arrest and that even now things have not seemed to change.
Nosisi Siyaya from Langa said she was displaced from Ndabeni and forms part of the Ndabeni group. Her claim application was successful lodged and the land claims office was in the process of verifying it and she was waiting to be issued the title deed. Ms Siyaya said that new trustees had since been appointed and that she had been told that her claim was being verified, the new trustees said they required the claims to be lodged again and that everyone had to pay for the service of verification and lodging of claims. She named the person who had been in charge of the beneficiaries who had begun the process of verification. She saw the process of verification as a delaying tactic by government departments. Government should have a list of people that have been evicted and that have lodged their claims and those awaiting verification. She complained that there is no process of continuation in Ndabeni, that when new people take over a case the process has to be restarted. Ms Siyaya said that government awards the people barren land and that they should assist the people with educating them on how to use the land.
Nomandla Mthirara from Gugulethu NY6 said that her name was on the list of persons whose claims had been successful but that now she is being asked to produce witnesses; her problem is that she has no witnesses because all are deceased. She wanted to know what government expects people in this situation to do.
Khoi San chief Joseph January said that he had an issue with the Khoi San people only being allowed to claim landmarks, that they were not allowed to claim as a group but only as individuals and that he wants to be able to put his claim in national papers and the government gazette in order for it to be gazetted so that it becomes law and has to be followed through. The Khoi San chief presented a map of 1669 of land owned by the Khoi San. He said the map showed that the Khoi San own all land in the country, that he wants to be able to claim as the Khoi San and that the sole owner of the country is the King of the Khoi San.
The Chairperson raised a point of clarity in relation to his introductory statements in response to the Khoi San chief’s submission. The Constitution only speaks about claims from 1913 onwards and that despite this government is trying to re-open claims predating 1913. To allow pre-1913 claims was not in line with the Constitution but that a policy is being introduced that will accommodate persons with claims predating 1913.
Ms Zongwana who was the former chairperson of NY97 in Gugulethu from 1994-2011 raised the maladministration of government officials with respect to the claims process. When money is released for compensation it either gets lost in the department or the officials take the money for themselves and share it amongst themselves. People in her community are now scared of divulging information about their claims. She said that people in her community were also given fake reference numbers or duplicates and that when their claims are processed they are then told that they are attempting fraud. The problem was that the government officials were casual workers who leave the system in chaos making it hard for the people’s claims to be processed. Documents are often lost resulting in only some claimants being paid out and others are not. The office is unaware of who it has paid and who it has not. She had made a submission to the President in 2010 and nothing has been done since. She would contact the Public Protector if this matter is not resolved. Parliament has failed the people because they did not adequately publicise the hearings.
Luthi Mfikhitshela from Section 23 in Gugulethu said that she had made a claim in 1998 in Eastern Cape. She wanted to find out how long she is expected to wait for a claim that was lodged within the time frame given by government because most of the parties have since passed on.
A member from the Isothere Organisation in Kensington highlighted that they struggled with their claims and that their committee had meetings with the Commission. Parliament should provide transport to these events to ensure that the public is able to attend and engage them on this matter. He encouraged claimants to come together as a group as part of this movement. He noted that it was wrong that Parliament makes people pay for their own transport and warned Parliament not to exploit people by expecting them to come to the hearing from far. He said that people have previously been abused by officials.
Ntandazo Ncima, a member of the community of Kacinga raised the issue that he felt that white families had gone through a smoother process of taking the land but now that the people want to retrieve their land they are made to undergo a flawed process of compensation. He had done research on the dispossession of parties and found that white families owned most of the land; these persons must also incur penalties because they acquired the land illegally. He also raised an issue of having to consult banks according to the willing buyer, willing seller principle.
Another member of the community of Section 23 of Gugulethu, said that he went to Parliament in 2011 and had his documents copied and was then advised to go to Pretoria. He was told in Pretoria that he had to wait. Being required to undergo long waiting periods meant that many of his peers have since passed on. There is a need for more redistribution of land. Everyone in government departments and Parliament should function well.
A member of the Gugulethu community appreciated the fact that re-opening of land claims was being considered but that it is important that traditional leaders are not excluded from the process because they are custodians of the land. He said that the willing buyer, willing seller process needs to be stopped and asked for clarity on the role of banks as well as clarity on the process of expropriation.
Chief Azanomthetho from Gugulethu said that he was speaking on behalf of the nation. He raised the point that power has been taken away from traditional leaders and that their role is to represent their communities. He added that all the open lands in this province must come to them and that the people are capable of taking care of the land because they know how to take care of their own land.
Gary Hatzenberg, vice-chairperson of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign representing areas such as District Six, said that the process of participation was not followed by Parliament as the people were not adequately informed about the hearings, they only heard of the event through a workshop they attended held by the Centre for Law and Society therefore they requested postponement of the hearing.
Response from Land Claims Commission and Parliament Committee
The Deputy Chief Land Claims Commissioner, Mr Thami Mdontswa, re-iterated the reasoning behind government deciding to re-open land claims. In 2003 people had approached the Minister and government asking for the re-opening of land claims. These requests continued. When President Zuma took office, an investigation was lodged as to what the problem was and it was found that people were complaining that they had been left out of the land claim process as they had missed the 1998 cut-off date. Also some people had claims arising from before 1913. A discussion was then held about the claims and the Cabinet decided that the Minister must consult the people on this matter. This led to seventy four workshops being held as a mechanism for giving people the opportunity to make submissions. Consultation was done but it would be impossible to consult the whole of South Africa. From the workshops, only seventy submissions had been given but attendance had been high – one of the workshops boasted 1 219 persons present.
Mr Mdontswa said another issue that had been underlined was that people complained that the 1998 claims had not been resolved and that they had not been given compensation. The National Development Plan explains how it plans on getting South Africa to where it needs to be. From 2013 until March 2014 is the timeframe it gives to recognise all the issues that might stand in the way of achieving its goals. This is the reason the Amendment Bill is being brought now so that claims can be lodged in time.
He noted that the biggest issue outlined today at the hearing was that of maladministration by government officials. There was pressure that comes with being part of a commission which resulted in many employees leaving and the need for casual staff. However, when employees leave, information on claims they had been working on, leaves with them. He promised that a new system of capturing claims electronically would be introduced that would keep people from losing information about claims and that would allow for the immediate handing out of reference numbers.
He urged the public to make sure that they know the exact dates when claims will be opened so that they do not miss the opportunity.
The Deputy Chief Land Claims Commissioner said that no new claims had been processed because the process has yet to be opened. No one should be paying anyone to lodge a claim. People must be careful of those seeking to commit fraud. The documents are not processed by individuals as no member of the public has the documents, they are on computers to be captured there at the Commission.
Mr Mdontswa encouraged people to lodge claims on their own and not through third parties or committees so that they could have their own reference numbers. The problem with some committees that claim to act on behalf of the people is that they take money for their services.
The Deputy Chief Land Claims Commissioner informed the public that the people who can claim are displaced persons or relatives of a displaced person if that person is deceased. People are able to claim if they were removed from their land by Apartheid laws, that they must state the number of years they stayed in the area before being displaced and that they must go to the department to lodge claims not individuals.
He commented on the situation in the Kensington community, saying that no claims are allowed to be made by the community, only by individuals. Many people were defrauding others and creating fake claim documents. He pleaded with the people to go to their offices which are now located at 14 Long Street, not 73 Strand Street.
The situation with the Ndabeni community had not yet been finalised and that people should wait. Details from the community members from Ndabeni had been taken but he could not discuss the issue in greater detail at the public hearing because a meeting would be held on the matter at a later stage. He informed the public that government would be training the youth to go out into the communities and teach them how to lodge a claim.
Mr Mdontswa said that the Committee would sit down and go through all the issues that were raised. He was happy that people had come out in numbers to participate in the hearings and had endorsed the Amendment Bill and asked that the people do so in future with other Bills.
Mr Swathe (DA) said that he was pleased that people gave their input on the Bill so that when the Committee returns to Parliament they will be able to look through all the submissions in order to consolidate what should be changed about the Bill. It is a requirement of the Constitution to consult the public before passing Bills and the feedback received would assist in passing a law that would be beneficial to all.
Ms S Berend (COPE) said that all outstanding claims should be encouraged to be lodged when the new process opens. Government encourages people to claim their land and to use and develop the land so that they are able to own and leave it for future generations. Government would provide support in the form of mentorships to equip people to be able to use their land. She urged people not to merely sell their land.
Ms Berend said that on the matter of fraudulent claims, she encourages people to report these immediately when they suspect foul play. She advised people not to hand over their information to others and that they should gather as much information as possible to substantiate their claims, alluding to the map presented by the Khoi San as a great example of proof. There is no need for people to seek help from third parties because government would be providing mobile services with trained individuals. The Bill would criminalise individuals that defraud others.
Ms Berend said that the Amendment Bill will allow those that missed the 1998 deadline to claim when the process opens. Persons who had been continually displaced from their place of residence would be able to claim for every time they were removed as long as the claim was legitimate. She urged older committee members to assist younger people in continuing with their claims.
Ms November (ANC) said that the Committee had noted what had been said about fraudulent officials and that people should take note that government will be training young employees in each province to be able to assist in the lodging of claims. She encouraged the community to claim despite the hardships they had faced because they are entitled to their land.
Ms H Mothlanyane (ANC) acknowledged that some officials have abused the process and was glad people have come forward to report the matter in the presence of the Committee. The best way of improving the previous claims process would be to use these hearings to ensure a better process is followed. Mistakes were committed in the previous process and such hearings allow for Parliament to see what these mistakes were.
Ms Motlanyane said that in a situation where the land is undergoing construction, there is compensation as well as have alternative land being awarded. She urged the community to hold government officials accountable and to take down names of persons attempting fraud and send these names to police stations. It is the community’s responsibility to expose corrupt officials and to assist government in ensuring the claims process is not soiled by such persons. The Bill does not look towards “willing buyer, willing seller” but is looking to eradicate this system because it made it difficult for government to buy land because prices were often inflated by landowners. The Amendment Bill will establish an Office of the Valuer General who will give an accurate valuation of the land.
The Chairperson said that the policy being introduced to cater for claims predating 1913 would be scrutinised to ensure no persons will be left out.
Mr Thibedi said that in future better advertising would be done to ensure people are aware of the hearings that would be taking place. It was encouraging to note that people recognised the role chiefs play in respect of the land. Therefore the department must work with them in this process as they are recognised by the Constitution.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would sit down with legal advisors of the department and Parliament to finalise the report on the hearings. All the submissions that had been made would be viewed and taken into consideration.
The Chairperson closed the meeting.
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