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Land claims a Sisyphean task for the state

Author: Cherryl Walker

For those familiar with the mid-1990s land restitution programme, there was a strong sense of déjà vu about press reports on the reopened process: hopeful claimants queuing up to lodge claims, diligent officials working hard to assist them, optimistic managers taking up the systems that will ensure the process runs smoothly, and an earnest minister emphasising the importance of “rekindling” the class of black farmers that the 1913 Natives Land Act destroyed, while maintaining the productive use of land.

Responding to concerns that the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights and the department of rural development and land reform do not have the capacity to manage the expanded programme, the minister and senior officials talked soothingly of hiring new staff and introducing a computer-based system. The government is setting great store by its new electronic system, which requires claimants to present themselves at regional or mobile commission offices, where staff will capture the relevant details and feed them directly into an electronic database.

But information technology will not resolve the challenges to do with incomplete claim information, with which the commission has struggled since 1995. These problems can be expected to loom larger in the new phase. Consider the further passage of time since the original dispossession, the increased number of descendants compared with the original rights-holders among claimants, and the strong possibility of many more claims involving informal rights.

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