Saai triumphs in bid to disclose land claims information

The Chief Land Claims Commissioner and the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development were unsuccessful in their attempt to prevent the Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai) from accessing information on land claims in South Africa. A court judgement and order from 19 September 2023 highlights the departments’ “lackadaisical behaviour” as a primary reason for their failure.

Over the years, Saai has fielded complaints from farmers who believe that the development or potential sale of their farms has been hindered by unfounded or slow-moving land claims. Emerging farmers in regions such as Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, and Limpopo have raised concerns about being evicted from their properties due to unverified and dubious land claims, often allegedly enforced by politically connected individuals. Consequently, Saai approached the Chief Land Claims Commissioner and the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform to grant access to the comprehensive database of land claims submitted since the initiative’s inception on 18 December 1998.

Francois Rossouw, CEO of Saai, stated, “Our decision to pursue this information was borne out of the necessity to validate the myriad of applications that seem to stagnate within governmental departments. The adverse impacts of groundless claims and the languid progression of land reform through the Land Claims Commission deter farm development, driving away potential investments, and disrupting the agricultural property market.”

On 22 February 2022, the Honourable Justice Madiba directed the Minister, in line with Section 18 of PAIA, to furnish Saai with the following:

  • An electronic copy of every land claim listed in the Government Gazette between 1998 and 2021
  • All reports submitted by the Chief Land Claims Commissioner to the Land Claims Court from 19 March 2019 to the present

However, Saai had to pursue a contempt of court action on 22 April 2022 due to the Minister’s failure to comply. On 12 May 2022, the Minister signalled their intent to rescind the order from 22 February 2022.

The subsequent rescission application was argued on 28 April 2023 before the Honourable Judge Yende in the Pretoria High Court. Both the Land Claims Commissioner and the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform were unable to justify their delay in launching the rescission application. They were thus mandated to bear the costs of this application, including the fees for two counsels.

Saai cautions that if compliance with the court order isn’t met by 3 October 2023, it will initiate contempt of court proceedings against the concerned parties.

Furthermore, Saai has launched a database at www.landclaims.org containing gazetted land claims for farmers’ reference. Upon receiving the requested data from the Land Claims Commissioner and the Minister of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Saai plans to conduct a rigorous audit to identify and rectify spurious land claims.