Since the historic signing into law of the Land Restitution and Amendment Bill, and the subsequent reopening of the land claims process, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has received just under 5 500 new land claims applications. Amongst those, the department has noted a high number of applicants opting for financial compensation over the return of their land.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat, the department’s chief director Michael Worsnip expressed surprise at the high numbers choosing money over the restitution of land, suggesting a number of reasons why claimants were opting for this route. This included many being satisfied with their current place of residence, and not being eager to return to the areas from which they were forcibly removed.
He also suggested that some were fearful about getting drawn into a lengthy and complicated process, instead opting for the shortest possible route. However, he noted that each claimant’s circumstances were different and needed to be taken into consideration.
“It is very complex and every single family is different,” he said.
Despite government being eager to see claimants return to the land which was rightfully theirs, Worsnip admitted that the process would likely be a lengthy one due to the department themselves not being a land owning entity. This meant that government would need to go about acquiring the land from private owners and other departments.
However, with the lodgement process now moving to a more electronic method and claimants now required to appear at the offices with sufficient information tying them to the land, Worsnip expressed confidence that the process would be far quicker than ever before.
“I think this time around we are in a much better position. We have learnt a lot of lessons from the past, so I think it will be a lot quicker this time around. But nonetheless, people shouldn’t expect that if they’ve lodged last week, in a couple of months they are going to be able to have their claim settled,” he noted.
He also sought to highlight the importance of financial compensation for many of the families.
“It can pay for school fees for a number of years, it can build a new room onto their house, it can pay off that house, and it can do a number of really good things. So I think one mustn’t underestimate the importance of it,” he said.
Despite the reopening of the land claims process, there are still just over 1100 “old claims” still to be settled in the Western Cape, with the department expected to complete that process within the next few years. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)