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Jun. 30 (GIN) – South Africa will restart the claims process that provides compensation to black families who were illegally removed from their land during white rule. The window for those claims had been shut 16 years ago.

In a published statement, President Jacob Zuma assented to the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, which among other things reopens the period to make a claim for those who missed the previous deadline of Dec. 31, 1998.

The original Restitution act, passed by Nelson Mandela, set up a Land Claims Commission and a Land Claims Court to buy or expropriate land and return it to the claimants. The Act was strongly opposed by the right-wing Freedom Front, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the South African Agricultural Union.

The process will run for five years starting from June 30, 2014, the statement said.

There are an estimated 397 000 valid restitution claims for apartheid-era forced removals. Only about 80,000 claims were filed by the 1998 deadline, although 3.5 million people had been forcibly evicted from their land or otherwise shifted to the homelands during the apartheid era; and about 4 million people had lost land under “betterment” schemes.

The amendment bill would also allow for claims by the Khoi and San people who were evicted even before the 1913 Native Land Act. The amendments extend the window period for lodging claims to June 18, 2018.

In an editorial by Tshepo Diale, a banker, in the Independent On Line ( Business Report, Diale wrote: “The commitment to return land to rightful owners as enshrined in the constitution should outweigh any other factor. The establishment of the office of the valuer-general, whose role will be to evaluate land and farms, will offer a much-needed reprieve in lengthy negotiations over price.

“Returning land to rightful owners is not enough to address poverty. The restoration of dignity through ownership alone, when the land is not productive, yields nothing.

“Pockets of success have begun to emerge as the government moves to recapitalize and assist in the development of farms left fallow. However, these lessons will have to be implemented at lightning speed for the true fruits of the land to be realized by the new owners.

“If we have no land to live on, we can be no people.”

The restitution act follows a new proposal by the Land Affairs Ministry which would give farmworkers 50 percent of land on which they are employed. The “historical owner” of the farm “automatically retains” the other half. The government will compensate the “historical owner” for the share given to workers.

Opposition to the policy came quickly from white farm owners at the AfriBusiness Property Rights Conference in Pretoria who this month launched a campaign with the goal of defeating the government program. It was called “ill-considered by Agri SA, one of the largest farmers’ unions.

But the Lands minister hit back saying: “We have been bending over backwards as black people, particularly African people… It is time that all of us took responsibility for progress… for South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”.

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