SA to ‘put 1913 Land Act behind us’

5 June 2013

The notorious Natives Land Act was passed on 19 June 1913. On 19 June, 100 years later, the government will call on South Africans to make a “determined national effort to put that Act and its implications behind the nation”, says Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti.

Briefing the media after delivering his budget vote in Parliament in Cape Town on Friday, Nkwinti said South Africans would be asked “to spread out our hands in a common bond by which we promise to move forward in harmony and unity, and pledge that never again will this country’s good name be soiled by such ruinous legislation”.

Nkwinti said the Natives Land Act had many disastrous socio-economic consequences, “not least the destruction of the fledging class of African farmers, destruction of the environment, and the deliberate impoverishment of black people”.

The government had begun the process of helping to rebuild the fledgling class of black commercial farmers that was destroyed by the Natives Land Act.

Engaging with South Africa’s ‘First People’

He said a big part of the redress process was engaging in discussions with the descendants of the country’s Khoi and San people, who felt they had been left out of the negotiated settlement that had brought an end to the previous political dispensation.

Nkwinti recently met representatives of these “First People” in Kimberley, Northern Cape. The meeting was the first of its kind, and some of those present couldn’t believe it was taking place, Nkwinti said.

“There’s going to be a lot of engagement. It’s an engagement we must have to release the pent-up anger in people. They are a group which fundamentally feels they’ve been left out.”

Among the proposals from these groups was that the Castle of Good Hope, which for them represented oppression, torture and humiliation, be turned into a “healing centre”.

The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill 2013, which seeks to extend the date for lodging claims for restitution to 18 June 2018, has been approved by the Cabinet for public comment. The cut-off date for claims was 31 December 1998.

“As for the 1913 cut-off date for the descendants of the Khoi and the San, and the heritage sites and historic landmarks, we have instituted consultative workshops and work is under way to codify these exceptions.”

Progress on land reform

On land reform, Nkwinti said casual observers had a tendency to be impatient about the rate of progress. “Be patient, as 360 years of injustice cannot be put completely right in a mere 19 years of democracy. The damage is too deep.”

The government’s restitution process started in 1995. Since then, 79 696 claims have been lodged, of which 77 334 had been settled.

Of the beneficiaries, a total of 137 000 were households headed by females, while 672 people with disabilities also benefited.

A total of R16-billion has been spent on the programme. Land acquisition – the state acquired 1 443-million hectares of land – took R10-billion of this amount, while R6-billion went on financial compensation claims.

In addition, between 1994 and the end of March 2013, 4 860 farms were transferred to black people and communities through the government’s separate land redistribution programme.

Overall, almost 250 000 people have benefited from land reform in the country since 1994.

The process faced many challenges, however, chief among them being the fact that it is difficult to make the transition from being a farm labourer to a farm manager.

The government was busy addressing this, Nkwinti said, while at the same time investing millions of rands on irrigation schemes, road and bridge infrastructure in different provinces in a bid to increase food production in the country.