South Africa’s land restitution process explained

The Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 enabled communities who were evicted from their land between 1913 (when the Native Land Act was promulgated) and the end of apartheid to lodge claims for the return of their land or “equitable redress” (typically compensation or another property).

The 2017 Report of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change, led by former President Kgalema Motlanthe, indicates that, by 2017, there still remained over 7 000 unsettled and 19 000 unfinalised claims lodged before the original 1998 deadline.

Up to 80,000 additional claims were lodged when the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act of 2014 reopened the claims process. The Constitutional Court ordered this law to be set aside, insisting that that pre-1998 claims should be finalised before new claims could be lodged. Assuming that the rate of 560 claims being finalised annually remains constant, the High Level Panel estimates that it will take up to 43 years to finalise old claims; new ones lodged before the repeal of Amendment Act will take another 143 years to resolve. If the law gets re-enacted, there is a further 397000 claims anticipated and the restitution process will take 709 years.

The High Level Panel points out the claims are often contradictory or overlapping and that the Land Claims Commission lacks the expertise to conduct effective research into the veracity of each claim.

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