Legal experts (mostly) welcome Land Court Bill

The Land Court Bill that is currently before Parliament has once again received widespread support. It will pave the way for specialised courts to deal with all land issues in Mzansi and hopefully speed up the settling of land claims

Experts in the agri space welcome a separate court which will deal with land issues and claims in South Africa. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Experts in the agri space welcome a separate court which will deal with land issues and claims in South Africa. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The Land Court Bill that is currently before Parliament has once again received widespread support from some of Mzansi’s foremost agriculture organisations.

The Land Court Bill will pave the way for a specialised Land Court and a Land Court of Appeal to deal with all land claims and land rights issues in the country.

It was first announced by agricultural minister Thoko Didiza and justice minister Ronald Lamola in March 2021 and was again robustly discussed during two days of public hearings by the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services last week.

If the bill gets passed, it will essentially see the new Land Court replace the Land Claims Court, which is currently still operating as a temporary court and is experiencing huge backlogs in pending cases.

ALSO READ: What you should know about SA’s first land court

Agbiz says yes

The Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz) has given its support to the bill. The organisation said that it has a substantial interest in the success of the Land Court as it will form an integral part of the institutional framework required to drive land reform in South Africa.

According to Annelize Crosby, the head of legal intelligence at Agbiz, her organisation and its members are committed to building an agricultural sector that is prosperous, dynamic, efficient, inclusive and sustainable.

Annelize Crosby is the head of legal intelligence at Agbiz. Photo: Supplied/Agri SA

“A successful land reform programme is seen as a prerequisite for sustainability in the sector as well as a potential driver of growth as it facilitates the entry of new participants into the primary sector,” she said.  

She added that Agbiz members have an interest in the development of policies and programmes that can facilitate access to land for their future clients, and this is one of the reasons for their backing. “Agbiz supports the bill as it is vital to capacitate the judiciary with sufficient, specialist judges to adjudicate on land matters.

“Access to justice is a vital component of land reform. The High-Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation has highlighted the limited capacity of the Land Claims Court as a bottleneck in the land restitution process in particular,” said Crosby.

Matters ‘will be heard faster’

Another legal expert who believes that a separate court which deals with land issues and claims is a good idea, is agricultural lawyer Katlego Ngwane. She said that similar systems for other issues, such as labour courts that deal with labour issues, already exist.

Law expert Katlego Ngwane. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“If we have land courts… to have your matter heard will be faster than relying on conventional court.”

Ngwane highlighted another advantage: appointed judges will becoming experts on land claims subject matter as it will be their daily job.

In a previous interview with Food For Mzansi, Peter Setou, chief executive of the Vumelana Advisory Fund, agreed that a coherent policy, guiding legal framework and capable institutions with clearly determined mandate are key to successful land reform.

“Our view is that the passing of the bill will be a step in the right direction, as it will facilitate the expeditious disposal of cases and contribute towards the development of appropriate jurisprudence in relation to land matters,” said Setou.

“This development will promote equitable access to land which is necessary for the restoration of dignity and justice to thousands of communities who were forcibly removed from their ancestral land.”

‘Against constitutional values’

A different opinion has emerged from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), which said that private property owners will not have a fair chance under this court.

The organisation’s head of policy research, Anthea Jeffery, argued that the Land Court Bill runs against the founding values of the Constitution, and that its ideological premise (private property rights are the problem and state ownership the solution) is fatally flawed. She also feared that the Land Court Bill will be used to help strip citizens of their property.

“Under the bill, the Land Court will have the capacity to sidestep the normal rules of evidence, appoint land activists as assessors, and give those assessors the power to overrule presiding judges on all questions of fact.”

The only concern that Agbiz has, is the cost involved in creating the Land Appeal Court.

“If one has regard to the number of cases that are currently taken on appeal from the Land Claims Court, then it seems difficult to justify the expense. As an alternative, the legislature could consider expanding the composition of the Land Court to enable a full bench of the same court to sit as a court of appeal,” said Crosby.

According to a press release, the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services will start deliberations on the bill in a few weeks.

ALSO READ: New Land Court ‘will speed up land claims processing’

Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain