What are the real implications of reopening land claims?
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The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act of 2014 has reopened the land claims process for another five years, extending the deadline to 2019. An impact assessment commissioned by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) anticipates that an estimated 397 000 new claims will be lodged, at a potential outlay of R130–179 billion (DRDLR, 2013) – possibly three times the cost of the arms deal. These are expensive and controversial measures. Some see them as appropriate and necessary for pro-poor land reform while others view them as highly problematic – especially members of rural communities whose claims have not been settled in the sixteen years since 1998, when the deadline for lodging land claims expired. A slow and administratively cumbersome process of land restitution has done little to support the wider objective of transforming racially-skewed patterns of land ownership. Many of the new claims will be settled with cash compensation, and thus be even less likely to achieve these objectives. The Act is likely to pit claimants against one another in overlapping and competing claims, and allow unscrupulous traditional leaders opportunities to manipulate land claims for their own benefit. This policy brief assesses arguments against the Act and recommends measures to safeguard the land rights of ordinary South Africans, including those who have already been waiting for so long for their claims to be addressed, in a context where new restitution claims open many opportunities for abuse by elites.