The increase in the number of land claims actively processed in the run-up to 2021’s local elections is a source of concern for the Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai).
“This increased activity is mirrored in the increase of farm visits by claimants and officials from the Land Claims Commission, offers to landowners and pressure to sell their property at lower than market value,” says Dr Theo de Jager, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Saai.
Saai is concerned about the lack of transparency of the process, especially since landowners struggle to obtain the basic documents from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, such as claim forms or research on the validity of the claims. It seems that, in most cases, no research has ever been done.
Although the Department and especially the Land Claims Commission recently suffered bad setbacks in the courts – with damning rulings over poor administration and mismanagement leading to major embarrassment – officials are forging ahead and intimidating landowners, showing no concern for the law or prescribed processes.
The main reasons for the concern include:
- The Department’s insufficient budget to buy property affected by the process;
- The low pace at which the process is driven – certain claims in which landowners had accepted offers already in 2002 are still not finalised;
- Expectations created in land claimants that they would either be receiving land or monetary compensation in cases where the validity of claims is under dispute; and
- The Department or Land Claims Commission’s inability to create the capacity to process and finalise claims within a realistic budget.
Saai have approached various landowner communities in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo and the Northwest to support them with procedural and legal advice, provide practical help during in loco inspections and to support affected landowners in the process.
“While individual landowners are at the mercy of ineptness, corruption and mismanagement in the Department and the Land Claims Commission, a well-organised, collective action is essential to protecting the interests of farmers,” De Jager argues.