South Africa to establish new land court

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DURBAN, South Africa – The South African cabinet has approved the submission of the Land Court Bill which is aimed at ensuring stronger judicial oversight over land claims.

The new court will allow the appointment of permanent judges and will now go through the parliamentary legislative process, which will include public participation.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said, “The bill seeks to ensure stronger judicial oversight over claims, and this must lead to better settlements, reduce the scope for corruption and avert the bundling of claims into dysfunctional mega-claims that lead to conflict.”

Lamola added that the bill seeks to address the systemic hurdles that make it difficult for land claimants to obtain land restitution.

“For instance, the bill allows for hearsay evidence for most families, who have to rely on oral history and the existence of elders with knowledge of description, location, and extent of land which their descendants previously occupied.”

Lamona further explained that the bill will also allow for expert evidence regarding historical and anthropological facts relevant to any particular land claim.

“It gives effect to the mandate of the sixth administration, namely, to ensure our approach to land reform is based on three elements — increased security of tenure, land restitution and land redistribution. This bill is a concrete intervention to improve the functioning of all three elements of land reform.”

“It creates a policy frame to ensure that land reform is guided by sound legal and economic principles and contributes to the country’s investment objectives and job creation initiatives,” said Lamola.

This bill is the outcome of the work done by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform.

The Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture proposed a number of recommendations to the IMC including:

  • The Land Claims Court be conferred into a new Land Court to adjudicate on all land related matters, and not only restitution.
  • The court must be given additional responsibilities, both judicial and extra functions, such as conflict resolution and mediation.
  • The court must have a functional approach that is modeled on negotiation before litigation on matters such as Expropriation Without Compensation, which is proposed to Parliament in the Expropriation Bill.
  • The panel recommended that the Land Court include the appointment of a permanent judge president and four permanent judges.
  • The Land Court should also be required to check that settlement agreements give just and equitable compensation to landowners, in line with Section 25 and the new Expropriation Act, when enacted.

By Zakithi Dlamini
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