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Study reveals restorative impact of land restitution

20 February 2024

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister, Thoko Didiza, has presented the research findings on the evaluation of the Land Restitution Programme. The research, which commenced in 2018, followed government’s decision to evaluate the socio-economic impact of the restitution programme. The research was conducted by government, in partnership with the Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

According to the study, which included 2 664 households and 3 378 people who were sampled and interviewed, the effects of land dispossession not only affected the economic prosperity of the dispossessed, but also disintegrated families who were forcefully removed.

“Land dispossession not only constrained the economic prosperity of black people but also broke families, alienated communities, and entrenched a deep-rooted trauma and impoverishment for generations to come,” Didiza said.

Didiza said the breaking of families led to the erosion of identity, causing a breakdown of social cohesion.

“It springboards families and individuals into poverty traps. More devastatingly, it compromises the psychological well-being and hope of dispossessed persons as well as their respective descendants.

“Essentially, land dispossession indirectly diminishes the cognitive capacities and decision-making abilities of the dispossessed over the long-term,” Didiza said.


The Minister said the Land Restitution Programme was meant to bring land justice and break the cycle of poverty amongst the dispossessed. The research was thus designed to measure the impact of restitution on the beneficiaries' overall well-being.

“The aspects of well-being considered are economic augmentation, psychological enhancements, cognitive development, and social upliftment,” Didiza said.

In terms of economic well-being, the study revealed that the economic power of restitution beneficiaries increased by 16%, measured in per capita per month, relative to the control sample.

“In some cases, this is as high as 36% of those large land claims – the outliers in the data,” the study found.

Regarding psychological well-being, the study showed that the settlement of the restitution claims significantly reduced the risk of depression by up to 0.15 standard deviation score.

This implies that the level of trauma diminished by 15% once the restitution claim was settled.

On cognitive capacity, the study showed that performance on working memory tasks increased by a range of 0.7 to 0.75 standard deviation for the beneficiaries.

“This indicates that land restitution can reverse the mental damage caused by the apartheid regime on people and families, the democratic dividend that has been bestowed on people since 1994,” the study noted.

On social well-being, the study results showed that the ability to perform cultural activities and spiritually connect with ancestors is one of the key benefits of the restitution programme.

Didiza welcomed the findings of the study, noting that it is an important milestone not only in South Africa’s long road towards restorative justice but also in the global challenge of effecting reparations to the dispossessed.

Didiza said the insights gleaned from the evaluation will help the department to upscale its efforts in implementing land restitution, and helped the department to understand the underlying factors of challenges faced by the land restitution projects or beneficiaries.

“One of the areas highlighted is the deep-rooted trauma of land dispossession victims and the subsequent erratic behaviour of some beneficiaries. The study shows that healing from trauma will require a new dialogue and conceived avenues for victims of forced removals to air their grievances,” Didiza said.

Over 83 000 land claims settled

The Minister says a total of 83 067 land claims have been settled since the inception of the Land Restitution Programme in 1995 to 2023.

Didiza said the number equates to 94% of the old-order claims that have been successfully settled, with about 2.3 million people having benefitted from the restitution.

Presenting the research findings on the evaluation of South Africa's Land Restitution Programme on Monday, Didiza said a total of R25 billion was spent on the purchase and transfer of 3.9 million hectares.

“An additional R22.5 billion has been spent on financial compensation for those beneficiaries who elected for financial compensation. Between 2019 and 2023, a total of 1 494 claims were settled, largely fuelled by the department's interventions in fast-tracking the settlement of claims,” Didiza said.

The study, which started in 2018 and included 2 664 households and 3 378 people, who were sampled and interviewed, found that the economic power of the restitution beneficiaries increased by 16%, measured in per capita per month, relative to the control sample.

The Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 is among the first laws passed by the democratically elected government.

This was done with the conscious acknowledgement that land justice is paramount, and restoration of Black people’s dignity and freedom is central to a democratic dividend, said the Minister.

The Restitution of Land Rights Act made provisions for the restitution of rights in land to people or communities dispossessed of such rights after 1913.

The constitutionality of land restitution is preserved in Section 25(7) of the Constitution of South Africa which states that “a person or community dispossessed of property after 19 June 1913 as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to restitution of that property or to equitable redress”.

Didiza said families of forced removal victims were fragmented for decades, and conflicts that arose at post-settlement claims were a function of a lack of social cohesion and trust created during a lengthy period of disintegration.

The Minister said investments in communication and social cohesion programmes would assist in mitigating the information gap and building trust among beneficiaries.

She said from the study findings, the department can draw some policy insights.

“Firstly, the study findings are enlightening us to understand that land restitution is not only about financial and economic justice but also psychological and social restoration, a lesson we should bear in mind when we evaluate the success or failures of land restitution projects.

“Secondly, over and above the post-settlement support and skill training, which we are already providing to beneficiaries as the government, there is an additional need to formulate community integration programmes,” Didiza said.

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