While government has settled the bulk of land claims to address dispossession during apartheid, there are still 207 outstanding claims for ground where mining takes place, and these could take as long as another five years to settle, when taking into account studies in other countries, an official said on Wednesday.
Of these outstanding claims, nearly half were in the research stage, while about one-quarter of the claims had been gazetted, and one-fifth had been settled, Department of Land Affairs director-general Thozi Gwanya detailed.
Asked how long it could take to finalise all of the cases, for which claims had to have been lodged by the December 1998 cut off date, he said that this was "the multimillion-dollar question".
Gwanya said that mining companies had, in the past, lodged disputes on claims to their land in an automatic reaction to protect their shareholders.
"Where there are disputes, and these disputes are difficult to resolve, it can take longer," he stated, adding that timeframes would differ from claim to claim.
Germany was also undertaking a process of land restitution, and had finalised 80% of the cases, with the remaining 20% being claims for land that "big business" owned - mainly in the forestry sector.
This drew a parallel to South Africa, where the situation was similar.
In Germany, the land restitution process began after the Berlin Wall was torn down, and was open to people from whom property was expropriated, first by the Nazis and later by East Germany's communists.
Some of these cases have been dragged out for more than 15 years.
"We have just been interacting with Canada around the land claims there, and their process is taking 15 years to settle one rural claim," said Gwanya. "The Australians and the New Zealanders are also taking a long time."
The 15-year figure for Canadian cases was based on a study undertaken in the country.
Gwanya conceded that it "could be" that some of the outstanding land claims affecting the South African mining sector would only be settled along a similar timeline.
If this was the case, a fifteen-year period from the lodging deadline in 1998 would end in December 2013.
He said that New Zealand and Canada agreed with South Africa's approach of emphasising negotiations.
"I am encouraged by the positive discussions that we are having with De Beers and Anglo American around the manner in which these things can be settled," stated Gwanya.
Some companies had even "thought ahead", to include claimant communities on an equity basis at the affected mining projects.
However, in the late nineties, mining companies had the "gut reaction" to dispute claims as soon as they were lodged, Gwanya said.
Government had initially set a deadline for settling land claims by March this year, but had failed to meet it.
Before the December 1998 date, government received over 79 000 claims to dispossessed land, of which it is yet to finalise just under 5 000.