SA’s New Land Court Act – paving the way for settling land disputes

In a quest to remedy historical land injustices and streamline the resolution of land and land rights issues in our country, South Africa has introduced a pioneering piece of legislation namely the new Land Court Act. This Act represents a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to foster equitable land distribution and provide an effective mechanism for resolving land disputes. The Land Court established by virtue of this transformative legislation will play a central role, as will be outlined in this article.

The Land Court Act No. 6 of 2023 (“Act”) was assented to by President Cyril Ramaphosa in September 2023 and places a strong emphasis on addressing historical land injustices, particularly in the context of land restitution. The main objective is to provide more substance to Section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, through a channel that obliges the State to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to promote conditions which enable citizens of the Republic to gain access to land on a non-discriminatory basis.

Thus, the purpose of the Act is to establish a Court with jurisdiction to impose orders as deemed necessary, as well as appropriate remedies or sanctions per the provisions of this Act, or any other law conferring jurisdiction on the Court. The Act also creates an appeal process to consider and decide appeals originating from Court orders and judgments, ensuring a fair and transparent avenue to challenge rulings. And finally, the Act also provides for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation to be used when dealing with land disputes. As a result, parties involved in land disputes will be encouraged to settle matters amicably while simultaneously reducing the congestion of our Court Rolls.

The Land Court will replace the Land Claims Court as a permanent specialist institution, responsible for implementing and enforcing the provisions outlined in the Act. It is mandated to expedite the dispute resolution process and to deal with the backlog of land claims as well as matters including, but not limited to, land restitution matters arising from the Restitution of Land Rights Act and the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act. In essence, it is tasked with exclusively adjudicating land-related disputes which will also facilitate the development of appropriate jurisprudence about land matters.

A key feature of the newly established Land Court is that it is superior. This means that it holds inherent power and bears the status equal to that which a Division of the High Court of South Africa has in terms of the Superior Courts Act about matters under its jurisdiction. In addition, all proceedings must be conducted in an open court, and all decisions are a matter of public record. At present, the seat of the Court is in Johannesburg. However, if the Judge President considers it expedient or in the interests of justice for the Court to hold its sitting elsewhere, other than the seat of the Court, it may of course do so.

As the legal landscape evolves, the implementation and impact of this Act will undoubtedly mould the future of land governance and dispute resolution and it will be exciting to keep an eye out for the first judgement to be handed down by the Land Court.

Disclaimer: This article is the personal opinion/view of the author(s) and is not necessarily that of the firm. The content is provided for information only and should not be seen as an exact or complete exposition of the law. Accordingly, no reliance should be placed on the content for any reason whatsoever and no action should be taken on the basis thereof unless its application and accuracy have been confirmed by a legal advisor. The firm and author(s) cannot be held liable for any prejudice or damage resulting from action taken based on this content without further written confirmation by the author(s).

February 22, 2024
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