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Claimants 'should take land, not payouts'

Wiseman Khuzwayo Business Report
Claimants 'should take land, not payouts'

Johannesburg - The land claims commission discourages people, especially those in rural areas, from taking financial compensation in lieu of ancestral land, advising them to rather opt for restitution.

This is according to chief land claims commissioner Tozi Gwanya, who said the commission had come to this conclusion based on practical experience on two land claims.

In St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal, the Bangaza community took the option of financial compensation in 2000, but six months later came back to the commission to demand their ancestral land rights.

Gwanya said the same happened in Pietermaritzburg in July, where claimants who had been paid financial compensation later tried to recover their ancestral land through an illegal land occupation.

They have since been evicted.

He said: "The second reason is that the commission is committed to contributing to the national agenda, which is to correct the skewed land ownership of 87 percent by white land owners and only 13 percent by black people.

"The commission has been wrongly accused by many non-governmental organisations nationally of misleading claimants into accepting financial compensation as opposed to land restoration."

The commission took claimants through the options in workshops, where all the implications of the various options were explained - from land restoration, to alternative land, to financial compensation and a combination of these, he said.

The commission was aware that some landowners persuaded claimants to opt for money with the view to maintain the status quo of skewed land ownership.

"A developmental state has a duty to guide and support the vulnerable victims of racial land dispossession, and thus help them to make informed decisions about their land.

"We are also aware that poverty makes it attractive for some to opt for money. We are therefore encouraging claimants to consider land restoration as the first prize or the combination of land and financial compensation," Gwanya said.

Gwanya said the commission had settled about 74 500 claims out of the 79 696 claims lodged. About 80 percent of these were urban claims, with concentration in the large cities of Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London. Most of the claimants had opted for financial compensation.

"Almost all rural claims involving agricultural land have opted for land restoration. The settled claims have seen about R4 billion committed to financial compensation while R5 billion went to land restoration.

"The most undesirable outcome of financial compensation was family disputes, … [where] the siblings must divide the award among themselves."

Gwanya said the spirit of the Land Restitution Act and land reform policy was to correct the skewed land ownership pattern, not to pay people money.

"The purpose of the democratic government is not only compensation but also just, fair and equitable redress, to restore land which was taken away from the people. The aim is to enable rural people to earn a living from their land."

Gwanya said the rights of claimants were not undermined when the commission encouraged them to take the land option. Rather, their rights were enhanced as land gave them access to more opportunities, including money.

He added: "It must be noted that the commission has not closed the door to financial compensation."

Meanwhile, the commission has concluded an agency agreement with the Postbank, in a major step towards fast tracking the payment of compensation to beneficiaries of the restitution process.

Gwanya said: "We have long been waiting for this moment. Initially, when we approached financial institutions for this type of agreement, they were not receptive … as they considered it to be a cumbersome task given the nature of our clientele, which is made up mostly of previously disadvantaged individuals with no bank accounts.

"What we needed was a partner with branches all over the country, particularly in remote rural areas to service the majority of the recipients of the restitution financial award, who stay in rural areas and townships. This will assist towards meeting the presidential directive of settling all claims by 2008."

In terms of the agreement, the financial award for beneficiaries of the restitution process would be issued with vouchers, which they would present to the Postbank for payment. The agency agreement would first be implemented in KwaZulu-Natal and North West.

"Other than the issue of accessibility, the attraction for us with Postbank is its commitment to educate and encourage beneficiaries with regard to investment opportunities offered by the bank," Gwanya said.

"There are many claims that have been signed by the minister and commissioners. The delay with the payment is mainly due to the issue of payment points, but once the rollout is implemented this will be a thing of the past. We are looking forward to more opportunities for collaboration in our quest to fast-track the settlement of claims."

From April to the end of August about R350 million had been paid as financial compensation to claimants, the commission said.


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