Land: dispossession, resistance and restitution

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Timeline of Land Dispossession and Restitution in South Africa 1995-2013

After the advent of democratic rule in 1994, the newly elected ANC led government was faced with the task of dealing with a legacy of centuries of land dispossession. A ‘willing buyer willing seller’ policy was adopted as the preferred method of land reform. While land dispossession had been achieved under white minority through violence and racially discriminative legislation, the new government had to strike a balance between nation building and addressing the land issue. New legislative frameworks governing the process of land reform through the lodging of land claims, expropriation, redistribution and restitution were established. The government intended to redistribute 30% of land to black people by 2014. However, the process of land reform has been slow due the inflating of prices by farmers on identified land on the one hand, and the falling into disuse of expropriated land given to black farmers on the other. A new approach to land reform has been proposed with admission that the ‘willing buyer willing seller’ model is no longer workable.
1 March, The Commission on Restitution of Land Rights is constituted. Its tasks were to assist claimants in submitting their land claim, receive and acknowledge all claims lodged and advise claimants on the progress of their land claim.
February, The Green Paper on the South African Land Policy is published. Subsequently, about 30 workshops are held around the country by the Department of Land Affairs to solicit the views of various stakeholders.
22 March, The Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 2 (LTA) is passed. The Act aims to provide “for security of tenure of labour tenants and those persons occupying or using land as a result of their association with labour tenant and to provide for the acquisition of land and rights in land by labour tenants”.
The Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 (ESTA) is passed. The Act aims to “”¦protect labour tenants from unfair or arbitrary eviction by regulating when and how tenants may be deprived of their homes and the land they use for cultivation and grazing”. The Act also allowed “labour tenants to obtain long-term tenure rights through the assisted purchase of the land they currently use or alternative land”.
April, The White Paper on South African Land Policy is published and outlines a strategy aimed at implementing land reform that contributes to reconciliation, economic growth and stability.
24 June, President Nelson Mandela attends a ceremony in KwaZulu Natal where 600,000 hectares of land are handed back to its owners. He emphasizes that only a fair redistribution of land would guarantee stability in South Africa.
December, A total of 63 455 restitution claims have been received by the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights (CRLR).
March, Only 41 land claims settled although work has been in progress for years.
July, Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Thoko Didiza states in her response in the National Council of Provinces that the state owned at least 20 percent of land in South Africa which amounts to about 24.3 million hectares, excluding land owned by parastatals.
June, About 4000 people illegally occupy vacant state land and begin building shacks in Bredell, a peri-urban area near Johannesburg.

‘Red Ants’ evict people from Bredell. © Leonie Marinovich / South Photos /

July, The government evicts people who had seized the land at Bredell, deploying Wozani Security Company (known as the Red Ants).
10 July, The South African Council of Churches (SACC) issues a statement expressing its concern about the Bredell incident and urges all those involved to work towards defusing increasing tension in the area.

The Landless People’s Movement marches in Alexandra © Lori Waselchuk / South Photos /

July, The Landless People's Movement (LPM) is formed by leaders of various landless people of South Africa in response to evictions of farm workers and labour tenants from commercial farms. The LPM extends its goal to that of organizing to get back the land that was siezed during colonialism and apartheid.
August, The government launches a new land redistribution policy, Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD), with the goal of establishing a class of African commercial farmers. Through the LRAD, the government hopes to transfer 30% of agricultural land by 2014.
November, A Land Tenure Conference is held in Durban under the Theme ‘Finding Solutions Securing Rights’. 
February, The Communal Land Rights Act 11 is passed, and gives the Minister of Land Affairs power to transfer ownership of communal land from the state to communities under traditional authorities, named “administration committees”.
17 June, President Thabo Mbeki addresses a gathering at the District Six land claims celebration.
October, Minister of Land Affairs Thoko Didiza hands back land to the Koka Matlou, Mabjaneng, Legata and Lebelo communities in the Limpopo Province. The four communities were forcibly removed from their lands in the 1800s.
November, More than 1 000 members of the South African Communist Party (SACP) march to the offices of AgriSA in Pretoria to call for an accelerated land reform process and an end to the exploitation of farm workers.
27-31 July, The National Land Summit is held in Johannesburg with delegates of both government and civil society groups attending. Delegates agree that the willing-buyer/willing-seller policy needs to be reviewed and expropriation should be considered.
June, The Constitutional Court delivers a landmark judgment ruling against August Altenroxel, a farmer whose portion of land was claimed by the Popela community and 11 individuals of the Maake clan. Altenroxel had challenged the land reform process claiming that he had never heard of any laws dispossessing people of their land. The Land Claims Court (LCC) and the Supreme Court agreed with his argument throwing the land reform process into a predicament. The Constitutional court ruled otherwise.
30 June, A total of 62 127 claims are settled, transferring a total of 916 470 hectares of land for the benefit of 900 000 people.
February, President Thabo Mbeki announces greater involvement in the land reform process during his state of the nation address.
March, The Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs in her Budget Vote encourages the need to focus “on the state as a lead driver in land redistribution rather than the current beneficiary-driven redistribution”.
6 June, The Constitutional Court overturns decisions of the Land Claims Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal in a case lodged by the Popela community, who wanted compensation for the loss of their land. The court “”¦found that although the Popela community had been dispossessed of many of their land rights before 1913, the loss of the land rights they held through the labour tenancy system was the result of a grid of integrated repressive laws that were aimed at furthering the government’s policy of racial discrimination”.
August, A panel of experts presents its report to the Minister on the issue of foreign land ownership in South Africa. Recommendations include the compulsory disclosure of nationality, race and gender and other information in all registrations of land title. A ban on foreign ownership of land in classified or protected areas for reasons of “national interest, environmental considerations, areas of historical and cultural significance, and national security” is also proposed.
October, The Land and Agrarian Reform Project (LARP) is launched as a joint initiative of various national and provincial government departments, including the municipalities, to facilitate land redistribution and promote agricultural production.
October, The Land Claims Court accepts a settlement between the Richtersveld Community and the state which will give back to the community a land area of 194 000 hectares, a coastal strip of diamond bearing land measuring 84 000 hectares, and pay R 190 million to a community-based investment company, amongst other terms of settlement.
November, The first case of land expropriation for restitution in South Africa is instituted when the Pniel farm in the Northern Cape is expropriated from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa by the government.
January, A second case of land expropriation is undertaken on a citrus fruit farm named Callais, in the Limpopo province.
March, Due to the large number of outstanding rural claims, March 2008 had been set in 2005 as a deadline by President Thabo Mbeki for the processing of all claims.
March, The Communal Land Right Act (CLARA) is passed by the government, is challenged by four communities occupying communal land in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West Province. They approach the Constitutional Court to have the Act declared unconstitutional, arguing that it undermines security of tenure for people living on communal land, and that it had been enacted in a procedurally incorrect way.
May, CLARA is declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. The court agreed with the communities that the Act was not enacted correctly as it replaced the indigenous law that regulates land occupation, use and administration in the different provinces.
April, President Jacob Zuma visits District Six and announces that 2 670 former residents would be returned to the area by 2014.
5 May, Julius Malema, president of the ANC Youth League, pushes for the expropriation of land without compensation and the dropping of the “willing-buyer/willing-seller” policy.
21 August, The Department of RuralDevelopment and Land Reformtables the draft Green Paper on land reform. Among its proposals is a four-tier land tenure system which includes state and public land on leasehold, privately owned land on freehold with limitations on land owned by foreigners on freehold.
25 August, The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) urges government to amend a property clause on the constitution to speed up land reform.
12 September, The Democratic Alliance (DA) responds to the draft Green Paper on land reform.
1 November, Hundreds of people invade land belonging to the Uniting Reformed Church just outside Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. The church subsequently applies for an eviction order.
6-8 May, The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform holds a National Restitution Workshop to discuss challenges in settling land claims.
October, President Jacob Zuma proposes a five step plan for land reform which includes, amongst other things, the establishment of district land reform committees made up of  various stakeholders includingcommercial farmers and those seeking land redress.
November, The leader of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Letlapa Mphahlele, calls for the re-opening of the land claims process.
15 February, Pieter Mulder leader of the Freedom Front Plus (FFP) responds to the State of the Nation address by claiming that African people had no historical claim to 40% of the country.
16 February, President Jacob Zuma responds to Pieter Mulder by warning him not stir emotions on the land issue, while Mmusi Maimane of the DA responds by deriding Mulder, urging that “wrongs of the past have to be put right”.
11 February, Residents forcibly removed from District Six return to their area and go on a “Remembrance Walk” to highlight their plight owing to the slow process of restitution.
15 February, The African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (AFASA) commends the government for its willingness to review the willing-buyer/willing-seller policy on land restitution.
14 February, President Jacob Zuma announces that the government is considering re-opening the process of lodging land claims for the benefit of those who did not lodge their claims by the 31 December 1998 deadline. This was also to accommodate claims lodged by descendants of the Khoi and San communities who were dispossessed before 1913, which was set as the cut-off year for land claims.  Zuma also indicates that the government will reexamine the willing-buyer/willing-seller policy on land redistribution.
16 April, A two day national Khoi-San dialogue attended by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, is held at Mitta Seperepere Convention Centre in Kimberley.
23 May, The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill is published for public comment. The Bill seeks to align the land restitution programme with government’s National Development Plan.
13 June, The National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) and Food and Allied Workers' Union (FAWU) launch a “Campaign for Agrarian Transformation and Land Distribution in South Africa” aimed at putting pressure on the government to accelerate the pace of land reform.

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Last updated : 20-Jun-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 19-Jun-2013