The South African government will reopen a claims process that compensates black families who were removed from their land under white rule to offer redress to those who failed to meet earlier deadlines.
The programme has compensated people or families, usually with a cash sum, who were forcibly driven from their land under the 1913 Natives’ Land Act, which set aside the vast majority of arable land for whites.
Most of the 80,000 claims that were made for restitution have been settled but a government spokesman said on Tuesday new ones would now be considered, including for people whose ancestors were uprooted before 1913.
“This was unfair because a lot of land was dispossessed even before 1913,” said Mtobeli Mxotwa, spokesman for the ministry of rural development and land reform.
The restitution issue is separate from the government drive to redistribute farm land to blacks but both policies are aimed at redressing historic wrongs and racial imbalances.
But claimants can be given a choice between land or cash and so a new wave could further unnerve investors in the agricultural sector, which only accounts for about two percent of Africa’s biggest economy but is a major employer.
Julius Malema, the influential leader of the youth wing of the ruling African National Congress, has called for a mass seizure of land, rattling investor sentiment.
“While land restitution and land reform are not the same thing, they should come very close somewhere down the line,” said Gary van Staden, a political analyst at NKC Independent Economists.
The government now maintains that too many people were left out of the initial claims process.
“While thousands have benefitted and are still benefitting from land restitution, people have complained that they were not in the country to submit their claims or were not made aware of the claims process,” said Mxotwa.
The initial claims period was from 1995 until December 1998. A total of 74,808 out of 79,696 claims were settled and a 2005 deadline to resolve outstanding claims was extended to 2011.
“The new period should last longer than three years so that all claims can be dealt with,” said Mxotwa.
He said the next step is to take the issue to cabinet so it can then go to parliament, where a new law will be created or an amendment made to the Land Restitution Act.