What you should know about SA’s first land court

Ministers Thoko Didiza and Ronald Lamola have announced a new Land Court heralding a new dawn for land relations in Mzansi. The court is said to be modelled on the Supreme Court of Appeal

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The minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza, hopes the Land Court Bill will breathe new life into the country’s land reform policy framework.

Didiza shared this view earlier today when she and justice minister Ronald Lamola announced their proposal for the establishment of South Africa’s first Land Court to parliament.

Justice minister Ronald Lamola. Photo: GCIS
Justice minister Ronald Lamola. Photo: GCIS

This initiative, they said, would be modelled on the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Lamola explained the court would deal with issues of land expropriation and tackle existing land claim bottlenecks which have hampered on the land redistribution process.

The bill establishes a specialist Land Court, with its judgements, orders, and decisions appealable at the proposed specialist Land Court of Appeal said Lamola.

Security of tenure

“We believe this kind of focused specialisation will help the country to find certainty, clarity on all the legal and jurisprudential issues related to the land question.

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“This bill gives effect to the ANC’s 54th national congress, namely, to ensure our approach to land reform is based on three elements: increased security tenure, land restitution and land redistribution. This bill is a concrete intervention to improve all three functions of land reform.

 “The bill creates a policy to ensure that land reform is guided by sound legal and economic principles and contributes to the country’s investment objectives and job creation initiatives,” he said.

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Didiza said her department was pleased to finally have a court that would adjudicate several issues that her ministry has had to deal with over many years.

“The Land Court Bill will address systematic challenges faced by the land claims court and ensure the speedy capacitation of the land claims court by ensuring that permanent judges are appointed,” she said.

Didiza also added that she hoped the bill would be the answer to decades of bottlenecks in issues of land claims. “Since 1998, some of the claims that have been lodged with the land claims court have not been able to be resolved because of challenges.

“We are grateful that we have taken this step going forward to make sure that court can have permanent judiciary.

“I have no doubt the introduction of the land court bill will promote access to land on an equitable basis and contribute to a speedy resolution of land related matters and contribute to nation building and restoration of the dignity of our people.”

What about existing landowners?

The bill will adjudicate disputes between landowners and people who claim to be entitled to have land returned to them after it was taken away under apartheid laws.

The bill lists all the legislations for which the courts will have jurisdiction, including the expropriation bill, which is currently before parliament, Lamola explained.

He added that it would “create a policy to ensure that land reform is guided by sound legal and economic principles and contributes to the country’s investment objectives and job creation initiatives.

“The bill, on its own, may not be a silver bullet that will help us undo the effects of colonialism. It is an important step which will enable land reform which is inextricably linked rural development and addressing socio-economic challenges that plague us a nation.

“We have taken a narrow approach for the course to gradually start with some of the bills… as time goes on the legislation may be increased.

“The aim is also that it must also be able to develop clear guidelines and jurisprudence with regards to compensation and with regard to all the various aspects related to the land question,” he said.

Lamola further likened the Land Claims Court bill to the same model used for trade unions and labour relations disputes that are mitigated through the CCMA.

“The court will deal with any disputes related to the land question,” Lamola emphasised.

Criticisms have already been levied, Lamola added. “People felt it was over judicialised and think those who did not have legal expertise may not fully participate. We are hoping claims will be resolved at the arbitration and mediation stage.”

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