Commission on Restitution of Land Rights: consideration of Annual Reports

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Meeting report

15 August 2006
Commission ON Restitution of Land Rights: CONSIDERATION OF ANNUAL REPORTS

Chairperson: Ms D G Hlengethwa (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Commission on Restitution of Land Rights Annual Report, 2005/06: Briefing Overview and Analysis
Annual Report of CRLR for the year ended on 31 March 2006
Minutes of Committee Meeting on 13 June 2006

The Committee was briefed on the annual report of the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights. The Report included the cases that were solved, the details of the budget with the total expenditure and income, the challenges and achievements of the Commission in the year, with the total number of claims that have been lodged to date, including the number of settled and outstanding claims.

Members raised questions on the statements that high land prices posed a challenge, and asked for clarity on average prices paid. Underspending by the Commission, the length of time to finalise claims and staffing problems were raised as concerns. Other issues included the cash settlements as opposed to land restitution, the number of valid claims, the case history of the claims, the investigation process, and clarification of the mandate of the Commission and assistance it could give to emerging farmers on the land.

Briefing by the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights: Annual Report and Financial statements
Mr Tozi Gwanya (Chief Land Claims Commissioner: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights (CRLR)) briefed the Committee on the Annual Report of the Commission. He explained that the presentation was mainly a report back on activities that occurred over the past year at CRLR. His report included details of the cases that were finalized, and details of the budget, the total expenditure and income. The challenges faced by the Commission were summarized. The total number of claims lodged to date, including the number settled and outstanding, was presented and explained.

Mr A Nel (DA) raised a concern about the under spending of the funds allocated to the Commission. He pointed out that there were still many people waiting for their claims to be settled, and many willing sellers who were awaiting offers from CRLR in regard to their land.

Mr Gwanya explained that the under spending arose from the ongoing process to resolve claims. The investigation that was done to ensure that money was given to people who rightfully owned the land was a lengthy process. Western Cape and Gauteng had the highest cases of fraud and therefore the process in these provinces generally took longer. Some claims were still in process and therefore the money, although allocated, had not actually been disbursed. A combination of the factors just outlined had led to some under spending. The money was needed and would be spent.

A DA member queried the statement made during the briefing that one of the main obstacles to the work of CRLR was the high and inflated price of land. CRLR had previously highlighted that private surveyors employed by the willing sellers sometimes inflated or overvalued land, as opposed to those appointed by the Commission. The member commented further to the meeting that the average market price paid to sellers by the Commission was named as R440 000, equivalent to R2 280 per hectare, which was equal to the national market price of land. He therefore requested clarification how inflated prices could be an issue, if CRLR were paying market prices.

Mr Gwanya explained that the average prices were not an accurate reflection of the true prices because individually and province by province the prices varied vastly. Some places were very costly and some were very inexpensive. The “average” was the median of all these prices. It was in the high cost areas that the prices were very inflated which resulted in more time being spent in trying to negotiate with sellers. This was the reason why this problem was highlighted in the briefing.

Mr S Abram (ANC) urged CRLR to take note of the impatience of people who have lodged claims. He queried how CRLR could properly claim that it was not operating at full capacity because of lack of staff since during the last year the government had opened up 208 posts within the Commission.

Mr Gwanya clarified that the government had opened up vacancies within the Commission but, although these had been filled in 2005, there was difficulty in retaining staff and there had been many resignations. This was due to the temporary nature of the employment since the Commission should have completed its work in 2008. Staff would obviously leave such jobs if offered job stability and assurance elsewhere. A further problem related to the human resource issues of CRLR being handled by the Department of Land Affairs (DLA), so that CRLR was obliged to consult with and wait for DLA to fill the posts.

Mr D Dlali (ANC) asked why the amount of the financial settlements was higher than the amount of land reform settlements. He asked for a breakdown of how many cases were won and lost and for reasons for losing cases.

Mr Gwanya replied that in urban areas people generally opted for cash settlements rather than land compensation, and this also applied to some rural areas. On average the cash compensation in these areas would be higher. He cited Western Cape as a prime example, because most of it was urban. In addition most of the areas dealt with by CRLR were privately owned and therefore valued higher.

An ANC member questioned the percentage of valid claims, how they were assessed, what kind of measures were used to determine the legitimacy of the claimants and whether CRLR had a problem with people claiming land that was never theirs.

Mr Gwanya stated that within CRLR there existed a risk management plan to reduce and help recover from the cases of fraud. Some cases were difficult for the Commission to handle internally because of their magnitude; for instance the identity document syndicate who had forged identity documents and claim vouchers. He summarised that of all the cases that went before the Land Claims Court, 51% were successful and 48% unsuccessful. 3% of the cases were still subject to appeals.

Mr Gwanya confirmed that validity of the claims was the greatest obstacle in restituting land because it was difficult to prove who owned or occupied the land in the 1800’s. He reassured the Committee that CRLR did everything in its power to investigate case by case. In some cases two people both claimed their forefathers owned a particular piece of land, and both claims appeared to be valid. CRLR had a difficult task investigating both claims to assess the truth. More than 500 claims had been dismissed because they were regarded as without basis. Such problematic assessments led to lengthy claims processes.

Ms C Nkuna (ANC) asked how long most claims would take to settle, and asked whether the Commission had found any shorter and more convenient methods to solve cases.

Mr P Ditshetelo (UCDP) was concerned with the effectiveness of the process of releasing funds, He questioned the time taken, and who was responsible for the release on settlement of a case. He asked if the CRLR was addressing the problems of administration of the claims and internal bureaucracy.

Mr Nkosi (ANC) expressed his thanks to the government of Belgium for the donation it had made to CRLR. His concern lay with the sustainability of the land after the restitution had been made. He asked if National Department of Agriculture was doing anything to help new farmers or the Commission to ensure sustainability of commercial land.

Mr Gwanya elaborated that CRLR’s mandate, according to the Land Restitution Act, was limited to transferring land, and they should not therefore follow up on the sustainability of new farmers who had received the land. There no structure to support these people. However, CRLR did help and try to ensure that the farms, more especially the commercial ones, were kept operating. This task occupied the limited time and resources of CRLR, who had neither the budget nor the staff to perform it.

He added that structures had been set up in some provinces to help new farmers. In the North West, Limpopo and Western Cape these structures reported to the provincial executive. In other provinces they had either not been set up, or they reported to their provincial Department of Agriculture.

Mr Gwanya further elaborated that in some areas a problem had arisen with traditional leaders wanting the land to be restored to them. There was a problem in principle since if these claims were recognised, the rest of the community would be left with nothing, and would be obliged to live on the traditional leader’s land.

The meeting was adjourned.




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