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Several factors behind “cumbersome” District Six restitution process – expert

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In a landmark ruling by the Land Claims Court, it was found that the former Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was “grossly unreasonable” in executing her duties relating to the restitution process in District Six. Professor Ruth Hall, however, adds that the reasons behind the constant delays in restitution essentially stem from issues relating to intergovernmental coordination and a lack of investment in the Land Claims Court.

“Restitution is a complex matter. The process in District Six requires cooperation between different parts of government and I think that this is really the reason why this process has been so fraught and slow,” said Professor at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, Ruth Hall.

“The issue here is that you have a national committee on the restitution of land rights [the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights] that needs to cooperate both with the City of Cape Town and the provincial government – which is in charge of the Department of Human Settlements. So, there’s three parts of government that need to cooperate and work together on a joint plan and of course, politics comes into play.”

While Professor Hall simultaneously acknowledges the failure to act by Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Hall also explained that the failure to bring timeous results to the issue of restitution in District Six is due to inadequate functioning by the Land Claims Court.

“The Land Claims Court has actually said that the reason for not moving ahead in this case, between 2018-2019, is because the minister failed to take action. She undertook to the court to make a clear plan, with timeframes, to resolve the District Six issue. However, between November of last year and May this year, she made no progress whatsoever and that’s why she was held in contempt of court.”

“…[But] the Land Claims Court hasn’t been working properly and one of the reasons is that it’s underfunded and understaffed…we need to reform the court and strengthen it so that it can play its role.”

The restitution in District Six is estimated to cost between R6 billion and R7 billion, according to Hall. Hall also says that the previous minister has claimed that government doesn’t have the funding available for the project.

The court, however, found the claim of insufficient funding to be an inadequate and unvalidated claim, considering the lack of effort shown in attempting to find the funding or to contact the necessary individuals and departments in government.

Hall also highlighted that most urban restitution claims in South Africa have been settled and that District Six is “unusual” in that regard.

“There have been a lot of restitution cases across the country. If we look at the statistics, over 60 000 claims were lodged by the deadline in 1998. The vast majority of those are now settled,” she said.

She then added, however, that most cases have been settled due to willingness to receive monetary compensation – which is not the case in District Six.

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