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November 20, 2008

South Africa needs $20 billion to settle outstanding land claims

by Frank Nxumalo

South Africa's Land Claims Commission, the State agency set up by the Agriculture and Land Affairs Ministry to oversee land reform in the country, says it will need more than R200 billion ($20 billion) to settle outstanding land claims and provide post-settlement support to beneficiaries.

“We need R70 billion to settle outstanding claims … For the development of the acquired land, we will need much more resources ... Our analysis of the transactions concluded in the current financial year alone reveals that we have committed a total of R726 268 937.77 in respect of 93 420 hectares,” says Blessing Mphela, the acting Chief Land Claims Commissioner.“However the fact remains that we continue to spend more money for less hectares of land as a result of high land prices. This is a challenge for the commission. The national average cost of land a hectare in the current financial year is R7 771.77, with the highest cost of land being in KwaZulu-Natal, at about R16 000 a hectare, followed by Mpumalanga province. We are also not insulated from other competing challenges on the National Treasury.”

The commission was also straining under a plethora of other onerous challenges. These included land disputes involving rural communities and traditional leaders and claims on forestry land owned. There were also claims on prime conservation areas like the Kruger National Park, on land with high minerals potential or where mining activities were already taking place. There are also claims on land where owners were already engaged in major commercial activities like game farms, residential estates, golf courses and other legally complex claims that were being challenged in the Land Claims Court by commercial farmers.

“Some traditional leaders are opposed to the establishment of legal entities for the purpose of settling claims, instead preferring that the land be handed over to the Traditional Authority on behalf of the community instead of the Community Property Association,” says Mphela.

The legitimacy of traditional leaders’ authority of over land affairs is currently being challenged in the Pretoria High Court in a landmark case that could affect the land rights of more than 21 million people in rural South Africa.

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