Will geospatial tools facilitate re-opened land restitution process?

July 14th, 2014, Published in Articles: PositionIT


Clare van Zwieten

Clare van Zwieten

The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, formally announced the re-opening of the land claims process on 1 July 2014. This followed the enacting of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, 2014 which extended the date for lodgement of land claims for those who did not claim by the initial deadline of 31 December 1998, to 30 June 2019.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) is not certain how much funding it will need to process the new claims as this will be determined by the number of claims lodged as well as the extent of the claims. However, a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) conducted by the department estimated that 397 000 valid claims will be lodged and that it will cost between R129-billion to R179-billion, depending on the options selected by claimants and whether those claims are settled within 15 years. This means that the department will need an additional allocation of R8,6-billion to R11,9-billion per year for the next 15 years to settle the new claims.

But where is this money to come from? All eyes will be on the new Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene to see whether the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement will reveal any additional funding for the DRDLR to finance the claims arising from the re-opening of the land restitution process.

In a statement issued at the re-opening announcement, Minister Nkwinti revealed that 14 lodgement offices and sites across the country have been opened in all nine provinces, and that “these sites have been equipped with advanced technology to ensure the speedy and accurate capture of relevant information” and that “every effort will be made to ensure the process from the submission of a claim to the time it is settled is a smooth one”.

That all sounds simple enough, but the reality is far more complex. Processing a land claim is a complicated affair and needs to be geospatially managed right from the get go. When making a land claim it is vital to get an accurate description of the location of the land.  Geospatial tools that can assist in the identification and delineation of claimed land include  GPS-enabled devices, historical topographical maps and the use of a geospatially enabled land claims lodgement system. Using these tools will go a long way towards bringing down the cost of the land claims process and speeding up the finalisation rate. A geospatially enabled land claims lodgement system will also allow for the efficient management of the land claims process and prevent opportunitistic individuals from manipulating the land restitution process for their own benefit.

Further complications when dealing with land claims is that very often the cadastral layout does not resemble the reality of what is on the ground. And what about land claims that don’t coincide with cadastral properties? Land that is located on a portion of a current cadastral property? Land claims that transverse current and historical cadastral boundaries? Never mind the various categories of land rights including unregistered rights such as share cropping and so on.

Another complication is the 8471 claims lodged before the 1998 cut off period that have not yet been settled or resolved, and which have been now been prioritised for settlement. The current system apparently uses surname as a unique identifier, which could make it difficult for the Land Claims Commission to differentiate between “old” land claims and “new” land claims.

Hopefully Minister Nkwinti has ensured that the Land Claims Commission will be drawing on the skills of geomatics professionals from within the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to strive for efficient geospatial management of the land claims process. If he is serious about an effective land restitution process, he will be making sure that this is indeed the case.

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