Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola briefed the media on Monday on Cabinet’s approved Land Court Bill, which gives effect to the sixth administration’s contribution to the country’s land reform policy framework.
The Land Court Bill was the outcome of the work done by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Land Reform which is chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza. The IMC has been seized with implementing the recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.
The panel proposed that the Land Claims Court be conferred into a new Land Court to adjudicate on all land-related matters, and not only restitution. It was also proposed that the Land Court be given additional responsibilities – judicial and extra functions such as conflict resolution and mediation. The court must also have a functional approach which is modelled on negotiation before litigation on matters such as Expropriation Without Compensation, which is proposed in the Expropriation Bill before Parliament.
The panel also recommended that the Land Court include the appointment of a permanent judge president and four permanent judges. The Land Court should also be required to check that settlement agreements give just and equitable compensation to landowners, in line with Section 25 and the new Expropriation Act, when enacted.
Lamola said the IMC on Land Reform has accepted all of the recommendations and has effected them in the Land Court Bill.
In addition to these reforms, the Land Court Bill also introduced a Land Appeal Court with a jurisdiction equal to the Supreme Court of Appeal in relation to matters under its jurisdiction which is a court of record.
Legal Aid South Africa will be responsible for the legal representation function currently undertaken by the Land Rights Management Facility in the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.
The transfer of the Land Rights Management Facility will ensure that Legal Aid South Africa has the finances and capacity required to broaden its reach to indigents especially those who seek land justice.
“The efficacy of the procedures and arrangements proposed in the Bill will assist to develop our land jurisprudence,” Lamola said.
He added that the Bill also seeks to address the systemic hurdles that make it difficult for land claimants to obtain land restitution.
“For instance, the Bill allows for hearsay evidence for most families who have to rely on oral history and the existence of elders with knowledge of the description, location, and extent of land which their descendants previously occupied. It also allows for expert evidence regarding the historical and anthropological facts relevant to any particular land claim,” said Lamola.
He said that the Bill created a policy frame to ensure that land reform is guided by sound legal and economic principles and contributes to country’s investment objectives and job creation initiatives.
“Whilst the Bill on its own may not be a silver bullet which can help us undo the effects of colonialism, it is an important step which can enable land reform which is inextricably linked to rural development and addressing the socio-economic challenges that plague us. We remain committed towards a land reform programme within the parameters of the law,” Lamola concluded.