Property & Wealth

The use of finite resource of land needs careful handling

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Few things are more fundamental to the stable, orderly, sustainable, equitable and economically prosperous development of the country than how land as a finite resource is managed.

From the mixed industrial/rural area of Grabouw in the Western Cape to the eThekwini (Durban) metropolitan complex to rural villages in Limpopo, they all speak of the immense challenges the country is facing on this front.

Especially state-owned land is a fast diminishing resource that must be carefully managed to meet both the urgency of present needs and demands, calling for wise, balanced planning by authorities.

One of the biggest threats is simplistic, ideologically driven and politically opportunistic short-term goals.

It is an inescapable truth that past policies of apartheid or “separate development” delivered to South Africa seriously unbalanced economic and spatial development patterns.

If only the father of “separate development” or “grand apartheid”, Hendrik Verwoerd, listened to the pleas of pioneer Afrikaner businessman Anton Rupert to allow “partnership companies” and for blacks to own their homes, South Africa might have looked dramatically different today.

It is true that presently government is between a rock and a hard place in constantly having to juggle the pressure to meet immediate expectations and long-term needs for sustainable development. What is, however, troublesome are the daily reminders that despite good intentions, government is failing to meet even the goals of its rural developmental policies.

Rural environment

Much of the political noise these days is coming from many of the rural nodes that were targeted for accelerated development under the Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Programme, with its aim to build infrastructure and allocate resources to those rural areas historically neglected.

Those are the selfsame areas that Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti has in mind to help curb the present massive migration to cities experienced across the country.

Her reasoning is that if these settlements and villages become well-resourced and are run efficiently, business investment will follow – providing employment closer to home and slowing down migration to cities.

While there is a large chunk of truth in her argument, it is also important to take note of the fact that one of South Africa’s BRICS partners, China, with its phenomenal development over a number of decades, went through a stage when it did exactly the opposite and tried to migrate people to the cities.

To do the one, but not the other, would be a huge mistake, as would be to perpetuate the mistake of the past when the majority of the black population did not own the homes in which they lived.

Ways and programmes should be devised to speed up the process of giving people living on/in state-owned property titles to it, which will integrate them into the modern economy.

And this should not only apply to urban areas. It is also more than a moral imperative, but is an essential economic driver. It is especially so, considering how a big a percentage of South Africa’s rural population are tenant farmers on tribal land.

Also in this regard, Rupert had some good advice. When addressing a university audience in 1982 he said black farmers should be allowed to work and own their own land: “The farmer must at least have the feeling that the ground he works and the fruit of his labours are his own for a generation.”

Complexities of the city

The city environment, however, also poses its own challenges, some of them complicated by the imbalances and injustices from the past and the expectations that came with the post-1994 political dispensation.

For one, government no longer enjoys a free rein to dispose of state assets and to use the proceeds in other areas of crises.

Recently in the Western Cape the premier was accused of failing to reverse the legacy of poor apartheid city planning when civil society went to court to prevent the planned sale of the site where Sea Point’s Tafelberg Remedial School had been built.

A private school offered a mouthwatering R135m for the property. The Western Cape High Court, however, ordered a 21-day public process on how the property should best be dealt with.

And the Reclaim the City movement, assisted by the non-profit Ndifuna Ukwazi Law centre, also aims to have land near the Cape Town Stadium and the land on the Alfred Street Complex in Green Point set aside for affordable housing to bring working class blacks and coloureds back into the inner city – a process inhibited by the inordinately high cost of city property.  

Fact is that providing affordable housing remains one the most effective ways to stave off growing social discontent and stimulate the economy for the sake of the poor communities in informal housing dormitories in all our cities.

It is, however, essential that holistic, multi-faceted programmes be devised to deal with the matter. 

Among other things, especially when dealing with public assets, the needs of future generations should be factored in. 

And, as highlighted in an article by Sikonathi Mantshantsha in the Financial Mail, there are 9.6 million South Africans between the ages of 15 and 34 years old, 36% of the population. Considering that reportedly 70% of them are unemployed, the pressure for affordable housing will remain huge for some time to come.

Add to that statistics like those which recently came from eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo, namely that 10 years ago the city’s housing backlog stood at roughly 110 000 and since has grown to some 400 000 units. It tells the story of the challenges that come with escalating urbanisation.

by Eve van Basten

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