Land claim stats don’t reflect reality on the ground

Connie Queline

Land claim stats don’t reflect reality on the ground

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Interview starts at the 6:44 mark

DUDUZILE RAMELA: Six years ago, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) commissioned a study to evaluate the socioeconomic impact of the restitution programme, that is where land is concerned. Minister Thoko Didiza yesterday delivered the findings of the report, which revealed that land dispossession not only has a devastating economic consequence but has a fatal consequence for the dispossessed family unit.

We speak to Bulelwa Mabasa, she’s with Werksmans, she’s the head of land reform there, and a member of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and the author of My Land Obsession, she joins us to take a look at this report. Thank you so much, ma’am, for your time this afternoon. What do we know about how this study was conducted?

BULELWA MABASA: Well, we know that the study was conducted having taken into account a total of 2,664 households and 3,378 individuals. That was actually commissioned in partnership with the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) at the University of Cape Town, as well as the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), which commenced in 2018.

DUDUZILE RAMELA: Essentially, what was the big idea?

BULELWA MABASA: Well, Dudu, this is not official in any way, but I think from my interactions with many other minds and leading voices in restitution, there was this thought and idea that restitution doesn’t work, it’s too difficult, it’s difficult for land claimants to prove their rights to land. There was this debate informally whether or not restitution should be set aside in favour of redistribution, which does not require that people prove their right to land.

So that was what was happening in, if you’d like, corridors of the think tanks around whether restitution is still a worthy process to follow.

But I think what we can see and glean from this study is that the effects of land dispossession have not only affected economic prosperity of the dispossessed but that it also disintegrated families who have been forcibly removed.

The big thing is looking at the psychological well-being and the hopelessness of those dispossessed persons and their descendants in the context of land justice.

Really, I think for me, the important thing as an outcome is that the study says that the dispossession of these communities and people who have been dispossessed has also resulted in their cognitive capabilities and decision-making abilities being diminished because it is such a psychological warfare of what dispossession does, not only to the economic well-being but also to the psychological well-being of these families. So I think the upshot of it is how important restitution is within the context of land reform.

DUDUZILE RAMELA: And how is it going, because the restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 is among the first laws that were passed by this democratically elected government. In 2024, 30 years later, how would you assess it? How have we done, how are we faring, given the consequences you’ve highlighted?

BULELWA MABASA: So let me put it to you into context. The first land claim matter that I came across as an attorney in practice came across my desk in 2006. We are sitting now in 2024, where we are still having this land claim that I interacted with early on in my career, that still has not been concluded, and that is not one of them.

What the minister told us is that since the inception of the land restitution programme, 83,077 claims have been settled between 1995 and 2023. We are told that this is 94% of all those claims.


But when you look into practice and you look at real people beyond the statistics, many of the land claims that we are dealing with are far from being concluded. Some of them have just not yet even been investigated. We see a lot of them that are no longer traceable.

So it begs the question as to whether or not the statistics of around 94% of them being concluded, does it include those that are not being traced, that are not traceable, that disappear off the system. Does it include those that include many, many disputes, in other words, once the land has been given or financial compensation has been given, we know of many disputes that happen within communal property association post being given the land. So it raises questions around whether or not we should take comfort in a statistic that says 94% of them have been concluded, in light of what I’ve just described.

DUDUZILE RAMELA: And that’s just it, 94% of what, is there an inventory that tells us that we’ve got the cases of dispossession, there are 10 and we have dealt with five, and we’ve got three to go. Do you know what I mean? So 94% of what, what are we working on, do we have an inventory?

BULELWA MABASA: So, if you recall, when President Zuma tried to amend the legislation in 2014, which was also to extend the deadline for the submission of claims, that amendment also made provision for a land register that would be public, that would be accessible, that could tell the public this has been the land that has been claimed, this is the land that has been given, and it has been given to so-and-so.

Unfortunately, that 2014 amendment was subsequently struck down by the Constitutional Court as having been invalid and unlawful because proper procedures weren’t followed.

So we still don’t have a register or some kind of audit or publicly available information that will tell the public what status a land claim has.

Except the only thing that we have is that once a land claim has been investigated and it’s preliminary or prima facie valid, we see it in the Government Gazette, but the Government Gazette is not going to tell us of those claims that have been submitted but have not yet been investigated.

So that’s still a big lacuna in our law that does not give any certainty to the public or landowners or even land claimers in terms of who has submitted a land claim, we still don’t have a system that is reliable, that is transparent.

DUDUZILE RAMELA: Bulelwa Mabasa, thank you so much for your contribution this afternoon. Bulelwa Mabasa is Werksmans’ head of land reform, a member of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and the author of My Land Obsession. Thank you.


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