Over 100,000 land claims put on ice following ConCourt ruling

In a unanimous judgment, the court ruled the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act was invalid.

The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - More than 100,000 land claims have been put on ice after the Constitutional Court struck down the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, saying Parliament rushed the law through without proper consultation.

In a unanimous judgment yesterday, the court said that the Act was invalid. Passed just before the 2014 elections, it re-opened the land claims window, which expired in 1998, for another five years.

Land rights and community organisations went to court over the flawed process, citing concerns that people still waiting for old claims to be finalised would be prejudiced.

The Constitutional Court's judgment details the failure of Parliament, especially the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) as well as provincial legislatures, to allow for proper public involvement in the passing of a law of crucial importance.

It found the NCOP's rush to get the law through to be "inherently unreasonable".

Constance Mogale of the Land Access Movement of South Africa says it's a landmark ruling and a lesson for both the government and the national legislature.

"Parliament must really do introspection of whom they are serving, whose interests they are trying to serve."

Those who've claimed under the now invalid Act must now wait until the backlog of outstanding claims is cleared, while Parliament has 24 months to re-enact the legislation.

REACTION

Rural Development and Land Reform minister, Gugile Nkwinti, is expected to issue a detailed response soon to the Constitutional Court's decision.

The government says it's studying the judgment, but that it will abide by yesterday's ruling.

Attorney Henk Smith of the Legal Resources Centre says: "It's really a court case about the separation of powers, the role of Parliament, the clarity in the legislation and ensuring that the 20,000-odd land claimants, who have not yet received restitution and finalisation of their claims under the old process, not be pushed to the back of the line once again."

The Constitutional Court says claims lodged under the now invalid law will remain intact.

But Smith says new claimants, numbering more than 100,000, will now have to wait their turn while outstanding claims are first dealt with.