Land Reform & Restitution: briefing by Minister; Agricultural Debt Management Bill: finalisation

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ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

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The aim of this report is to summarise the main events at the meeting and identify the key role players. This report is not a verbatim transcript of proceedings.

LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE
16 October 2001
LAND REFORM & LAND RESTITUTION: BRIEFING BY MINISTER; AGRICULTURAL DEBT MANAGEMENT BILL: FINALISATION


Chairperson: Rev P. Moatshe

Documents handed out:
A National Profile on the Restitution Process in South Africa Progress Since the State of the Nation Address, February 2001 (Department of Land and Agriculture and the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights) [email info@pmg.org.za for document]
Agricultural Debt Management Bill [B 54B-2001]

SUMMARY
The Minister for Agriculture and Land Affairs, Ms T. Didiza, briefed the Select Committee on progress in the land reform and land restitution process. Committee members responded to her presentation with questions for clarity and requests for information. After the Minister's retort, the Chairperson thanked her and closed the discussion. The Chairperson introduced the Agricultural Debt Management Bill for consideration by the Committee. Mr T. Marais presented the objects of the Bill. The Chairperson facilitated the formal adoption process, and the Committee adopted the Bill.

MINUTES
The Chairperson welcomed the Minister, the National Land Claims Commissioner, Mr W. Mgoqi, and members of the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs. He invited the Minister to begin her briefing.

Briefing by the Minister for Agriculture and Land Affairs on Progress in the Land Redistribution and Restitution Process
The Minister began her presentation by giving the historical background to land reform and restitution in South Africa. Prior to 1994, the challenge facing the new Government was finding a solution to the need for land reform that worked at building a peaceful and prosperous new future for the country. The starting point to designing a framework for land reform and redressing the effects of apartheid was the acceptance that land dispossession had happened in South Africa and that it had happened on a racial basis. The legacy of apartheid had to be dealt with.

She said the challenge in formulating the Restitution Act of 1995 was instituting an Act that took into consideration that restitution would not be possible for every instance. The Act also had to respect property ownership and land tenure rights. The Land Restitution Commission was formed to be the agent of restitution for land rights. She said the Commission was set up by the Government but was meant to deliver on its mandate as an independent body. A specialised court, the Land Claims Court, was also formed to provide a legal mechanism for the settling of unresolved land claim cases. The Minister reported that, after the law was promulgated, the first thing the Department did was implement a national communication campaign to inform people of the land claim process. The campaign elicited 63,000 responses through claims lodged with the Commission, and a verification process was undertaken to eliminate invalid claims. The Minister said that the delay in the settlement of claims could partly be attributed to the length of the verification process. She related a number of instances when the Department had found that some applicants had been attempting fraudulent use of the restitution process to acquire land or, in the case of certain farmers, to use the process to get out of farming and get financial compensation from the government.

The Minister reported that the process had experienced a few testing claims cases. She mentioned the cases of land claims over the Johannesburg International Airport and in St Lucia. The Commission had to also deal with issues of balancing national interest, in the Johannesburg International Airport case, and environmental interests, in the St Lucia case. She said that, through negotiations, creative solutions had to be found to satisfy the diverse interests over claims on the land. She recalled the Luatlo case when the community claimed South African National Defence Force land for resettlement. Negotiations in this case had initially moved the community into accepting alternative land as the Luatlo base would have been uninhabitable because of the land mines and spent bomb cartridges that infested the land. The community had, however, decided to revert to the position of demanding the Luatlo land to the point of taking the government to court.

The Minister informed the Committee that the process of restitution could not only be about giving land compensation or resettlement. She said the Department also had the task of making sure that resettled communities additionally became livable and viable communities. The government wanted to ensure that communities became part of the rural and urban renewal strategies.

She brought to the members' attention the issue of labour tenancy and the complications it brought into the process. She explained that labour tenants were not necessarily farm workers but had come about as a result of land eviction and re-zoning. The Labour Tenancy Act was promulgated to deal with labour tenants and allowed for negotiations between tenants and farm owners. She mentioned that a Land Conference was planned to take place in November where land tenure reform would be debated and deliberated, and this would likely affect the Land Rights Bill.

She announced that the Department had made a priority of speeding up the settlement of restitution claims. Since March 2000, the number of settled restitution claims increased from 3,916 to 12,150 by the end of March 2001. The land restored through Ministerial approval to date was 191,762 hectares, compared to the 173,805 hectares restored by the Land Claims Court. In conclusion, she said it was important for Committee members to work closely with the Department so that they would remain informed of the good work that was done in the restitution process. She said the media needed to tell these good stories, as they would inspire South Africans to have confidence in the process.

Questions and Discussion
An ANC Committee member asked about the situation in the Luhatla area. He said that an agreement had been negotiated, but there was a sudden turn around by the community. There were non-governmental organizations (NGO) in that area that had a non co-operative role in the process. He mentioned ANCRA as one such NGO and asked whether the Department had a relationship with these NGOs.

Mr K. Mokoena (ANC) was pleased that the Minister, in her presentation, took responsibility for all the issues surrounding restitution. He thanked the Minister for the resources and competent staff made available by her Department to his constituency to deal with land restitution. He made special mention of Mr M. Mokono whom he said was very competent and co-operative. He asked about a deadline he had heard of that the Department had set for the completion of all restitution claims. He also asked whether Select Committee members would be invited to the Durban conference on land.

Rev Chabaku (ANC) commended the Minister on her work. She asked the Minister about the Wallmansthal community outside of Pretoria where people had been uprooted and a military base had been established on their land. She asked if the Minister knew about the case.

Ms B. Thompson (ANC) asked whether the Department was making any contribution to the Dukuduku Project that was part of the Working for Water programme.

Mr W. Mgoqi, National Land Commissioner, responded that ANCRA was a land NGO that was affiliated with the National Land Committee (NLC). He reminded members about the adversarial stance that the NLC had taken on land distribution and restitution in South Africa, as exemplified by their role in the Berdell case. He said the National Land Commission had tried to persuade the NLC to play a constructive role. He mentioned the NGOs Nkunzi in the Northern Province and the Border Rural Committee in the Eastern Cape Province as examples of NGOs that played a constructive role in the process.

The Minister responded that it was unfortunate that the National Land Committee had taken the approach it took on the land restitution process. She said the Government recognized that NGOs had an important role in the process. There was a common ground working for the interests of the people. The Government had given financial support to the National Land Committee because it wanted the NLC to be a constructive participant. The Minister's view was that there were individuals who were dishonest and influenced their NGOs negatively.

On the issue of the deadline, she stated that the Government had decided that, by June 2002, the validation process of all claims needed to be complete. She said no time frame could be set for the completion of the whole restitution process. It was difficult to predict what twists and turns the process would encounter in the future. An example of the unpredictable variables was the court case that the Transvaal Agriculture Union (TAU) filed against the Government challenging the whole process. She said that, if TAU had the court decision in their favor, it would have lead to a retrogression of the process.

The Minister said that the Department was prepared to use appropriation as a means of land distribution or restitution. She used the example of an instance in the Eastern Cape Province where this method was used. However, she said that the Government preferred to use methods that encouraged negotiation and co-operation.

Replying to the question by Mr Mokoena, the Minister said that Select Committee members would not only be invited to the conference but would also be involved in the preparatory stages. She said that it would be important for members to play an active role in developing the policies that would govern land in the country.

In response to the question by Ms Thompson, the Minister said that the Government was involved in the Dukuduku project by trying to find ways to assist the people who were moved out of the forest to establish livable communities.

On the question about Valmaansdal, the Minister said that the National Defense Force was prepared to make land available to the claimants. Churches, such as the Lutheran Church, had decided to work with the Government to find solutions in the redistribution of some of their lands following their land conference.

In conclusion, the Minister said that there had been some calls to open the process of inviting claims for land restitution. She reported that the Government's decision was not to open the process because restitution was a very costly exercise that could not be open ended.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister and Mr Mgoqi for taking the time to brief the Committee. The meeting then moved to finalise the Agricultural Debt Management Bill.

Finalisation of the Agricultural Debt Management Bill
Mr T Marais, Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Agriculture, introduced the Agricultural Debt Management Bill and announced that the National Assembly had passed it in the previous week. He presented the history of the Bill in the parliamentary process and its objectives. The Bill was aimed at establishing the Agricultural Debt Account (ADA) that would replace the Agriculture Credit Account. The Agricultural Debt Management Bill provided for the managing of debt repayments, the administration of monies in the ADA, the auditing of the account and other matters connected to the activities of the account.

The Chairperson asked if Committee members would prefer him to lead the formal adoption process of the Bill and the members agreed. The Chairperson proceeded to read the Motion of Desirability and it was accepted. The Chairperson then asked members to comment on each clause as he went through the Bill. Clauses one to eleven were accepted without discussion or changes, and the Bill was passed. The Chairperson thanked the Department and adjourned the meeting.

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