LRES Findings Launch Conference: Reversing the legacy of spatial inequality and poverty

Left: Malcolm Keswell discussing the international evidence on cash and asset transfers. Right: Mvuselelo Ngcoya presents some of the key qualitative findings. Credit: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights.

Segregated spatial planning during the apartheid period resulted in staggering levels of population displacements. Between 1960 and 1982, approximately 3.5 million people were displaced [1]. These displacements likely had long-term effects for the children of the affected families and communities. Evidence from mobility experiments in the United States of America shows that distressed neighbourhoods are spatial poverty traps. The children of poor families that take up housing subsidy vouchers to move out of chronically distressed neighbourhoods do substantially better in adulthood as compared to their counterparts that remained behind [2–8].

The Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 (and its various amendments) seeks to compensate the surviving descendants of the families and communities displaced between 1913 and 1994. The Act provides for the restitution of land or other forms of compensation, generically defined in Section 25.7 of the constitution as “equitable redress”. In the main, equitable redress takes the form of financial compensation. Restitution, whether in the form of land or financial compensation, can be made to persons or entire communities, depending on the nature of the historical dispossession. The resulting transfers vary in size depending on the details of whether the claimants are family members or communities, and how the rights of succession have been applied to the surviving descendants of the originally dispossessed individual.

The Land Restitution Evaluation Study (LRES) is the first effort to quantify the impacts of such forms of restitution. Primary data from beneficiaries who received restitution awards over the decade 2013-2022 was collected and analysed, and the impacts estimated for their economic, psychological and cognitive well-being. The results of this study were the focus of a recent SALDRU conference.

To foreground the work undertaken by LRES, the conference began with an account of what is known about the scale and scope of forced removals. Laurine Platzky, who led the national effort by NGOs to track “forced removals” 40 years ago, reflected on the meaning of that work today.

Image: Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha seen here holding one of the reports of the Surplus People Project (SPP) with Laurine Platzky, the National Coordinator of the SPP. Credit: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights.

Chrischené Julies presented an overview of the special case of District 6 in Cape Town and her work for the District Six Museum. Cherryl Walker then reflected on the period following the passing of the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 which saw the creation of the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights. She discussed her experiences serving on this commission during President Mandela’s administration and some of the first claims to be settled by it in that period. To close off this first part of the conference, the Commission then presented a summary of its most recent work and the challenges it currently experiences.

From left: Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha, Cherryl Walker and Chrischené Julies. Credit: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights.

The middle sessions of the conference focused on the LRES findings. To contextualise the findings, a summary of the international evidence base on cash and asset transfers was first presented, since these are the main types of benefits delivered through the restitution programme. The session outlined five modalities of transfers: (i) conditional cash transfers [9–12]; (ii) unconditional cash transfers [13]; (iii) large magnitude cash transfers [14–17]; (iv) asset transfers [18, 19]; and (v) cash with asset transfers [20].

This evidence base points to two recurrent and robust types of positive impacts of cash and/or asset transfer programmes for low- and middle-income countries. First, household consumption increases; and second, the psychological well-being of beneficiaries improves. Since the average restitution award value in the LRES sample is about R39000 or 5484 US Dollars PPP (more than double the transfer size of any of the studies in this evidence base), the South African restitution programme might be expected to generate similar impacts.

The data used in the study come from multiple sources, including administrative data on restitution award disbursements, household and individual survey data, psychometric test data, and data on the social networks of selected communities. To estimate the impact of receiving a restitution award, outcomes for a randomly drawn group of individuals with restitution claims finalised during the ten year period from 2013 to 2022 (the treatment group) are compared to a control group with claims not yet finalised but legally settled for the period 2018-2020.

In total, 505 claims were studied (roughly 20% of claims settled or finalised in the period 2013-2022), covering just over 3300 individuals, approximately evenly split into treatment and control participants.

The top line impact finding is that large restitution awards (more than R200000 per beneficiary) cause sustained improvements to beneficiary well-being. In particular, per-capita monthly consumption increases by more than a third over the long term.

Smaller awards (less than R200000) also show positive impacts, but those impacts have a greater margin of error.

The study also detected statistically significant impacts on psychological well-being. Beneficiaries experience a large and statistically significant reduction in their risks of depression. This finding is consistent both with there being a psychological benefit to restitution (i.e., more money/assets relaxes the psychological tax of worry about money), as well as removing the psychological tax of awaiting restitution.

The conference concluded with a round-table panel discussion, chaired by Pippa Green, where the speakers of the day reflected on some of the nuances around the LRES findings as well as broader debates about restitution policy in South Africa and globally.

Panellists from right: Cheryl Walker, Malcolm Keswell, Laurine Platzky, Mvuselelo Ngcoya. Credit: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights.


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