Natives Land Act: negotiating a new landscape 100 years later

Cape Town: As South Africa gets ready to mark the centenary of the 1913 Natives Land Act, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti says South Africans must collectively work to undo the wrongs of the past, which have led to inequity in issues of land distribution.

This year marks a centenary since the Natives Land Act was passed on 19 June 1913.

Next month, on the exact date when the act was passed, government plans to call on the country to make a “determined national effort to put that act and its implications behind the nation”, Nkwinti said when briefing the media, after delivering his Budget Vote in Parliament on Friday.

He said South Africans would be asked “to spread out our hands in a common bond by which we promise to move forward in harmony and unity, and pledge that never again will this country’s good name be soiled by such ruinous legislation”.

Government has also begun a process that will rekindle the class of black commercial farmers that was destroyed by the Natives Land Act.

Nkwinti said a big part of the redress process was engaging in discussions with the descendants of the Khoi and San people, who feel that they had been left out of the negotiated settlement that had brought an end to the previous political dispensation.

Nkwinti recently met representatives of these first people in Kimberley, Northern Cape.

“There’s going to be a lot of engagement. It’s an engagement we must have to release the pent up anger in people. They are a group which fundamentally feels they’ve been left out,” Nkwinti said.

The Kimberley meeting was the first of its kind, and some of those present couldn’t believe it was taking place, Nkwinti said.

Among the proposals from these groups was that the Castle of Good Hope, which for them represented oppression, torture and humiliation, be turned into a “healing centre”.

Nkwinti said that the Natives Land Act had many disastrous socio-economic consequences, “not least the destruction of the fledging class of African farmers, destruction of the environment, and the deliberate impoverishment of black people”.

He said that the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill 2013, which seeks to extend the date for lodging claims for restitution to 18 June 2018, has been approved by Cabinet for public comment. The cut-off date for claims was 31 December 1998.

“As for the 1913 cut-off date for the descendants of the Khoi and the San, and the heritage sites and historic landmarks, we have instituted consultative workshops and work is underway to codify these exceptions,” said Nkwinti.

On land reform, Nkwinti said casual observers had a tendency to be impatient about the rate of progress.

“Be patient, as 360 years of injustice cannot be put completely right in a mere 19 years of democracy. The damage is too deep,” said the minister.

Progress in land redress

Government’s restitution process started in 1995. Since then, 79 696 claims were lodged, of which 77 334 were settled.

The state has also acquired 1 443 million hectares of land. Of the beneficiaries, a total of 137 000 were households headed by females, while 672 people with disabilities also benefited.

A total of R16 billion has been spent on the programme. Land acquisition took R10 billion of this amount, while R6 billion went to financial compensation claims.

Between the 1994 and the end of March 2013, 4 860 farms were transferred to black people and communities through government’s Redistribution Programme.

Overall, almost 250 000 people have benefited from land reform.

Land reform, however, was having some challenges. Among them was the fact that it was difficult to make the transition from being a farm labourer to a farm manager. Government was addressing this.

The department will also invest R240 million on irrigation schemes in different provinces as part of efforts to increase food production.

About R70 million will also be invested in improving roads and bridges in South Africa.