Land Claims: Innovation assists government to get it right

By: Mindworx Consulting

The issue of land ownership and distribution has been an issue in many parts of Africa for a long time, with no likely panacea. In post-democratic South Africa, government has set out a process that intends to redress land dispossession, as guided by legislation, popularly referred to as “land claims”. Land claims are an emotionally charged issue often hijacked for political reasons that have little to do with the reality faced by the families involved.

We all know the challenges:

  • The sheer volume of claims; estimates put the number of people removed from their land at 3.5 million
  • The task of finding those who were displaced, or their rightful heirs
  • A slow, cumbersome and bureaucratic claim system
  • The tight time frames in which claims are meant to be researched, given the varying levels of complexity
  • Capacity and staffing challenges within the responsible government departments
  • The volume of research and evidence required to meet the legal parameters guiding restitution and redistribution.

Getting land claims right is complex and because of its impact on both claimants and landowners, has to be done with objectivity, sensitivity and precision. It’s crucially important to get it right the first time.

This December marks the two-year anniversary of clever, innovative thinking and strategic partnerships that are making land claims easier to process for government and more socially palatable for the people involved.

Since 2015, Khanya and Mindworx have together been researching outstanding land claims for the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, and are facilitating the process using a system that encompasses advanced research skills, and innovative process engineering to produce the outputs required by the Commission to enable faster, efficient and more accurate decision making on matters of restitution.

Khanya is a South African based research and development organisation that focuses on participatory development and finding ways to ensure that communities have control over their own development. They have been instrumental in pioneering the community based planning approach, which gives communities a voice into governmental and municipal planning processes. Together with Mindworx Consulting, a very people-oriented local consulting business, strong in the science of process and programme management, are scaling their methodology into a solution which will enable government to efficiently resolve the many bottlenecks holding up land reform, through the process of redistribution.

Peter Ochola, Project Manager of the Khanya/Mindworx JV, explains. “Each claim requires volumes of unique evidence, primary and secondary field research, legal arguments, historical spatial information, etc. However, it also requires data that is often standard and repetitive: legislation, history, cause and effect of removal, maps and location co-ordinates. We’ve created an interactive system that enables us to speed up the inputting of this kind of data so that we’re able to get to the specialist analysis of each case more quickly. At the end of the process, we can generate each claim report at the click of a button.”

All land claims are made against the state, not the landowner. Claimants may choose restoration of the land, alternative land or financial compensation. Ochola says 90% of claimants would opt for financial compensation if they won a land claim. “We’re either dealing with very old claimants or, in many instances, three or four generations down from them. Since they moved off the land – or never grew up on it – money has become more attractive to them than land.”

He says the law needs to work more for the people. “We’ve met farmers who are ready to settle but are forced by law to wait for the process to run its long and cumbersome course. One KZN farmer gives claimants access to the land to visit their ancestors, and he’s donated land to the local community. But people are now edgy because government has taken too long over this issue.”

There is also a psycho-social effect of land claims that Ochola calls a major design flaw in the current research process, as laid out by the Commission. The process does not consider the psycho-social impact of asking claimants to revisit their experiences like forced removals and relocations during the hard apartheid era. They need counselling and support, and they need to be advised on the best course of action for their circumstances. None of the political rhetoric surrounding land claims touches on any of these issues.

Going forward, it is imperative that a public awareness campaign about the key aspects of land claims is developed – based on legislation and facts, not innuendo – to enable a real understanding of the complex nature of the process. This will provide confirmation to South Africans that there really is a concerted effort being made by government, in partnership with the private sector, to address the land problem as a matter of urgency.


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