South Africa

South Africa

Land claims: Some of the good news and the lay of the land

Land claims: Some of the good news and the lay of the land

There are three components to land reform, a key political issue in South Africa: redistribution, tenure reform and restitution. While redistribution and tenure reform remain sluggish and controversial, the 2014/15 annual report of the Commission on Restitution of Land rights shows much has been accomplished with regard to the R2-billion spent settling 428 claims. The symbolic value of these successes should not be underestimated. By MARIANNE THAMM.

On paper, the real stories of dispossession and restoration are lost between the statistics and pie charts of the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights’ (CRLR’s) 2014/15 annual report. Some 428 claims were settled, 241 of which were urban, 187 rural, with 78,600 beneficiaries from 15,457 households, 6,244 of which were headed by women. Awards of 144,406 hectares were made at the cost of around R1-billion, with financial compensation totalling around R1-billion – which all adds up to R2-billion spent on healing the deep and lasting wounds that have affected generations of South Africans.

While a significant backlog remains and a new deluge of claims have flooded into the CRLR since the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act was adopted in June last year, the symbolic (as well as financial) value to the long list of communities, individuals and families who have benefitted so far cannot be underestimated.

While it would be impossible to quantify the the impact of dispossession and forced removals that affected millions of South Africans across generations for over a century, the process, while lumbering and slow, carries with it the seeds for renewal and opportunity.

The largest ever land claim, a “rural flagship” in the Western Cape which is not featured in the CRLR’s annual report, is that of the Ebenhaeser community about 40km outside Cape Town on the West Coast, who were dispossessed in 1925. The spectacular piece of land, located on the banks of the Olifants River is now made up of 44 farms. The community members were relegated to small plots of inferior land at Doornkraal on the periphery of the land they once owned and until this claim they have depended mostly on financial assistance from the government.

It took seven years to negotiate with 22 farmers who supported the restitution process while another 22 are opposing it. These opposing claims will be heard in the Land Claims court in October this year. The R350-million claim – including 1,566ha of privately owned commercial land and 1,919 hectares of state-owned land – was approved by chief director of restitution support Michael Worsnip on June 4 this year and will alter inexorably the fortunes and lives of future generations of families who were originally dispossessed.

The agreement also makes provision for compensation for “outsiders” – those who are not part of the Ebenhaeser Community Property Association (CPA) – to the value of R110,947 per dispossessed household. Elderly members of the CPA will each receive R7,500.

The deal features “multi-stakeholder” participation including the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, the Department of Water Affairs Fisheries and Forestry, the provincial agriculture and housing departments, organised agriculture (current landowners) as well as the local Matzikama Municipality.

Earlier this month, on August 5, chief land claims commissioner Nomfundo Gobodo presented the commission’s report to Parliament’s portfolio committee on rural development and land reform. It is curious that no one in the media attended the presentation or that it was hardly mentioned in news reports because in spite of, ahem, ‘challenges’ – that quintessentially euphemistic South African noun for cock-ups – the commission has accomplished much.

Since the adoption in June 2014 of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act – extending the deadline for claims until June 2019 – 57,300 new land claims have been lodged at the commission’s 14 lodgement offices around the country as well as through four new mobile lodgement buses – named the Gemsbok, Inkanyezi, Maruping and Mabundlandila – which are supported by two all terrain 4×4 vehicles, enabling them to reach deep rural or remote rural areas.

Outstanding claims lodged prior to the original 1998 cut-off date number 8,035 but the Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugu Nkwinti has committed to prioritising these before processing new claims.

In her report, however, Gobodo, emphasised that in order to cope with the additional claims the CRLR would need more staff, research capacity and finance to investigate and finalise new claims. A diagnosis of the CRLR’s capacity by the Human Sciences Research Council found that it lacked the adequate staff and capacity to do its work at the pace required. The backlog of claims for the 2014/14 period was 6,691 with the highest proportion of these in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

Gobodo said that while the CRLR had “readied” itself for the new claims after the passing of the Act in July, it continued its work settling 428 new claims, finalising 372, approving 119 and researching 1,525.

Of the 428 new claims which were settled, 241 are urban claims and 187 rural. The settlement of the claims benefitted 78,600 beneficiaries from 15,457 households of which 6,244 are female-headed households. Awards of 144,406 hectares were made at the cost of R1,777,514,536.86, and financial compensation amounting to R1,000,691,810.49 were made. The total financial implications of the settlement of the 428 claims is R2,778,206,347.35. In addition, a total of 53 claims were dismissed as they did not meet the requirements for restitution,” said Gobodo.

Western Cape

The Western Cape settled the largest number of claims – 194 at a cost of R1.5-billion. Of these 154 were for financial compensation to the value of R1.2-billion. Unlike other provinces, the bulk of claims in the region were urban and individual rather than rural and communal.

The region reported that some of its “highlights” for the year included the ongoing claims process in District Six currently being managed by two bodies, a reference group and a task team. So far, 139 houses have been built in two pilot phases. Phase three of development is under way with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform as the developer. New houses are expected to be ready for occupation at the end of this year. A business development plan for District Six – which is an iconic historic asset in the region – is being discussed in order to ensure the sustainability of the area and to shape it as a tourist destination that will compete with Table Mountain and Robben Island while benefitting beneficiaries.

In Richmond Park, 4,314 beneficiaries from 401 households who were forcibly removed between 1972 and 1984 will benefit from a claim settled in 2011 and concluded in December 2014. The area is earmarked for mixed use, including light industry, an office park and retail outlets. The land will remain the property of the Richmond Park Community Property Association with claimants owning a 25% share in the development company as well as receiving R40-million for the lease of the land to the company.

A claim for three portions of land in the prime residential area of Constantia and made on behalf of Hadjie Abdullah Solomon and Saba Owen Solomon – a family with a 300-year history in the area – was settled when title deeds were finally handed to the families in 2014.

Eastern Cape

In this region 17,638 claims – across six districts and including two metros – were lodged before the December 31 1998 cut-off date. The highest number of claims were in the Amathole district with 8,053, followed by Cacadu with 7,137. The claims include betterment claims in the communal farming areas, conservation claims, commonage claims; and forestry land claims.

By March 2015, 16,726 land claims were settled with 912 outstanding. During the 2014/15 financial year 79 land claims were settled, 39 finalised and 198 researched.

Free State

This region has settled 3,057 of the 3,081 claims lodged before the 1998 cut-off and seven claims were outstanding for 2014/15. One claim and five “phased” claims which amounted to R81,5-million were approved in respect of 12,170.7834 hectares, benefitting 1,134 individuals from 245 families of which 128 were headed by women.

Highlights” in the Free State included Altona, Zoar, Ramahutse, Crowther, Maseru and Qwaqwa National Park land claims which were lodged on behalf of families and communities. Most of the communities and families opted for financial compensation. An interesting detail is the Qwaqwa National Park Restitution Claim relating the expropriation of 95 white-owned farms in order to construct “a native reserve”.

The white land owners were paid even though some of them did not receive a fair and equitable compensation. Later, the very same farms were used to establish what is now known as Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The claimed properties fell within the scheduled areas as at the time of dispossession (1991) hence only Blacks (Natives) could have ownership and stay on those farms in terms of section 18 (1) of the Development and Trust Act 18 of 1936. Therefore, the establishment of a National Park on January 30 1991 dispossessed the claimants of the right to inherit the farms and the right of a beneficiary under a trust arrangement, they would have acquired had the land remained under the trust arrangement in terms of the Native Trust Act,” reads a report from the region.

The claim, amounting to R29.8-million was settled on April 25 2015.


In this region the regional office started the year with 747 land claims outstanding and 905 land claims not finalised “all of which were complex claims”.

The big hurdle was in trying to trace and locate land claimants thorough verification for the implementation of the financial restitution awards. The product of this team was that the office was able to finalise (implement the full rewards) for 100 claimants to the value of R14,8-million against the target of 20,” the region reported.

The office had also transferred 15 state-owned properties totaling 826.786 hectares. Complexities relating to the settlement of rural claims included community disputes, traditional authorities, legal entities, border disputes as well as the competing claims.

During the period under review nine land claims were settled benefitting 209 households at a cost of R44,3-million. The office spent 89% of its allocated budget of R50-million for the 2014/2015 financial year.


The value of settlements and approvals in the region amounted to more than R1-billion with more than R839-million spent in settling claims through land restoration and R212-million in financial compensation. One of the claims this region highlighted was that of the Nkanini community, who were dispossessed in 1971.

Land totalling 2,395.4969 hectares – predominantly sugar cane – and worth R67-million, was awarded to the community, which set up an operating company with a strategic partner. One hundred and eighty four households benefitted from the claim.


In January this year the office in this region had exceeded its budget as its original allocation of R412-million was reallocated “to other needs” by the commission in September 2014. It was allocated a further R105-million and had spent R419-million by March 2015.

The largest claim finalised was the Montina claim at R200-million. Montina is the second-largest tomato producer in South Africa and was settled on behalf of seven communities in the Vhembe and Mopani districts.

An interesting claim related to white land owners is the Kruger family land claim for land designated for “occupation by blacks” in terms of the Native Trust and Development Act of 1936, (Act No 18 of 1936).

White people did not escape the effects of the apartheid if they lived on a piece of land which was designated for them, and the Kruger family was no exception in this regard. Consequently, the Kruger family was forced to sell its property to the state. The claimants were removed by the state for the purpose of establishment of Motetema Township,” reads the report from the regional office.

The Kruger family were awarded R556,104.25 in financial compensation.


Thirty five claims totalling R243-million and benefitting 9,910 beneficiaries from 1,557 households, 11 of which were headed by women, were settled. R31-million was paid out in financial compensation. The office also finalised 28 claims, dealt with 26 projects and researched 338.

Out of these settled claims, 9,050 hectares of land was transferred to 906 households comprising 5,162 beneficiaries. The land cost for settlement of these claims amounted to R22-million while financial compensation amounted to R8-million.

The bulk of claims lodged in the province were in rural areas with different landowners, resulting in a more phased settlement process. In 2014/15 26 phased projects were approved at R212-million, R188-million going towards land costs and R23-million towards financial compensation.

Since the adoption of the new Act, 3,930 new claims have been lodged.

North West Province

Here 47 claims were finalised, seven dismissed, 31 found non-compliant, seven new claims settled and 18 phased projects processed. The office acquired more than 27,352.1300 hectares of land benefitting 12,483 beneficiaries from 3,279 households, with 2,209 headed by women. The office secured an amount R357-million, spending R283-million of this.

Claims for financial compensation totalling R73-million were approved.

The Baphiring and Welgevonden/Goedgevonden community claims were amongst the most complex were settled.

A total of 1,258 new claims, 810 urban and 448 rural, had been lodged in the region by March 2015.

Northern Cape

Most claims settled in this region were for land restoration to communities and families and complexities involved tension between mining and agriculture and the best sustainable land use in the province.

Nine claims were settled, 34 finalised, seven projects phased, with 25 claims lodged by 1998 still to be researched. The total costs of awards was R95-million, with 38,005.5253 hectares awarded. DM

Read more: Full report

Photo: Minister of Rural Development and Land Refort, Gugu Nkwinti hands a cheque for a land claim (Photo Dept Rural Development and Land Reform)


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