South Africa plans special court expedite the return of land taken from black people under apartheid

South Africa’s government unveiled plans on Monday for a special court to expedite the return of land taken from black people under apartheid by handling disputes that have held up the highly sensitive process.

Two decades since the end of white minority rule, large swathes of private land is still under white ownership and redistribution efforts have often ended up in court, with thousands of land claims remaining unresolved.

The proposed Land Court will have the same level of power as the High Court with permanent judges and will also look into conflict resolution and mediation, the justice ministry said, making it stronger than the existing Land Claims Court.

It is part of government efforts to redistribute millions of hectares of land to redress the injustices of the decades-long apartheid regime, when millions of black people were dispossessed of their land.

An expropriation bill outlining how land might be confiscated without reimbursement was submitted to parliament for approval last year. It seeks to confiscate land without reimbursement if it is unused, abandoned or poses a safety risk.

“What the court is going to do is to deal with disputes, any disputes related to the land question, which may also include disputes that arise out of the Expropriation Bill as it is finalized by parliament,” Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola said.

The new bill was approved by cabinet but it was not clear when it would be submitted to the legislature.

In his state of the nation address last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government would establish a land and agrarian reform agency in 2021 to fast-track land reform through expropriation and restitution to boost agricultural output.

Critics on the left say the ruling African National Congress has been too timid in redistributing land, while those on the right warn it might scare off investors, noting mass land confiscations wrecked the economy of neighboring Zimbabwe. The South African government says it would never consider such moves.

(Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; editing by Promit Mukherjee and Philippa Fletcher)

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