South Africa to establish special courts to help unblock land redistribution

On Monday, South Africa’s government announced plans for a special court to speed up the return of land taken from black people during apartheid by resolving disputes that have slowed the process.

Large swaths of private land remain under white ownership two decades after white minority rule ended, and redistribution efforts have frequently ended up in court, with thousands of land claims still pending.

According to the justice ministry, the proposed Land Court will have the same level of power as the High Court, with permanent judges, and will also look into conflict resolution and mediation, making it stronger than the current Land Claims Court.

It’s part of the government’s plan to redistribute millions of hectares of land to make up for the injustices of the country’s decades-long apartheid regime, which saw millions of black people lose their land.

Last year, parliament was presented with an expropriation bill outlining how land could be taken without compensation. It aims to seize land that is unused, abandoned, or poses a safety risk without compensation.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola said that “What the court is going to do is to deal with disputes, any disputes related to the land question, which may also include disputes that arise out of the Expropriation Bill as it is finalised by parliament”.

Cabinet approved the proposed bill, although it was unclear when it would be presented to the legislature.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his state of the nation address last month that the government would create a land and agrarian reform agency in 2021 to expedite land reform by expropriation and restitution in order to improve agricultural production.

Left-wing critics say the ruling African National Congress has been too cautious in redistributing land, while right-wing critics fear that it would scare away investors, pointing to how mass land confiscations wrecked Zimbabwe’s economy. The South African government has confirmed that such acts will never be considered.

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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