Thursday, January 14, 2010

Commission delists giant land claim

By Stephan Hofstätter, Farmers Weekly

The Land Claims Commission has degazetted a large land claim on 29 farms, covering over 30 000ha in the Waterberg region in Limpopo.

A notice published in the Government Gazette in December withdrew the land claim in its entirety, but reserved the right to regazette claims on certain farms after further investigation.

The move follows a decision in 2007 by the Land Claims Court, which found the commission had erred in quadrupling the number of farms actually listed in the original claim forms by turning four claims by individuals into a much larger community claim.

The commission’s decision to gazette the expanded community claim displayed “an obvious lack of rationality”, the court said in 2007, awarding a rare punitive costs order.

Farmers’ unions have complained for years that the commission’s practice of expanding claims to include farms not listed in original claim forms is illegal, discourages investment, and causes a decline in production.

In May 2009, the commission admitted for the first time that it had wrongly gazetted farms not mentioned in claims, and started degazetting them.

A gazette notice should have no impact on production until transfer, but the commission conceded that it was a disincentive for investment, and a threat to food security. This “undesired effect goes against the development objective of the restitution process”, the commission said in a statement last year.

The timing of the announcement, coming two months before the commission admitted it could not afford to pay for all outstanding claims it had gazetted, led to speculation that the move was linked to its budget crisis.

The commission rejected this. It would never “abdicate” its responsibility to investigate and finalise land claims “for the sake of expedience”, it told Farmer’s Weekly in December, and remained confident parliament would find the money to pay for all outstanding claims.

The commission’s compliance in December with the Motse court order will not end uncertainties. In its withdrawal notice, the commission stressed it was not precluded from regazetting the claims if claims were found to be compliant.

Dr Theo de Jager, deputy president of Agri SA, said the lack of clarity was an indicator of how sloppily the process was handled. “What are the implications of being listed for 4½ yeas for investment in those farms and companies?”

The commission’s replies to queries from Farmer’s Weekly suggest claims will be regazetted on the limited number of farms listed in the original claim forms, including portions of the 36 000ha Lapalala Wilderness. It said it had appointed a dedicated task team to speed up the investigation. “Factors such as the availability of relevant information and cooperation from affected parties will determine the pace,” it said. “This process may take several months.”

The Motse community blames the commission for raising expectations on the ground that it cannot meet. It is particularly angry that the commission has degazetted claims on state farms and properties belonging to landowners not contesting the claim.

“This is going to cause a fight,” said Motse leader Alpheus Matlou. “People want to mobilise. The whole thing is out of control. They want to burn down the fences, houses, everything. I can’t stop them. It’s their land, and they want it back.”

But the commission refused to take responsibility for declining investment and increasing tensions in the region. “Obviously, every process which provides for administrative decisions will have inherent consequences,” the commission said. “They will have to be managed and dealt with as and when they arise.”

It also declined to disclose the names of other large land claims expected to be degazetted. “The process of reviewing the gazettes is ongoing and, therefore, the results of the process will determine the number of claims to be degazetted, if any.”

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