Property & Wealth

Urgent need for re-think on land

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South Africa is not alone in the struggle to provide adequate housing and shelter for its rapidly urbanizing population, and to address the many inequities and discontent regarding the ever-diminishing suitable land.

Maybe South Africa should tear a leaf from the book of Eoghan Murphy, Ireland’s Housing Minister, who dropped existing housing targets as unrealistic. Instead, he is focusing on getting Ireland’s supply strategy in sync with optimum supply capability, which in turn determines an achievable delivery rate.

Lessons for South Africa

That South Africa’s housing programmes, especially in the country’s urban areas, is a disaster zone, there can be little doubt. Hardly a day goes by without people somewhere engaging in protest, driven by their frustration over the lack of adequate, secure shelter for them and their families,

 The time has come for a realistic and holistic reassessment of housing strategies if the country is to avoid the increasingly violent and alarming countrywide uproar, which some are now calling an open rebellion.

When questioned about the recent conflagration in the Western Cape municipalities of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, local forensic investigator David Klatzow suggested that when you have 26 simultaneous ignitions (of fires!) it warrants closer investigation.

Illustrating that peoples’ plight for basic survival is more complicated than just a roof over their heads, is the anomaly that in many cases, land claimants actually want the money rather than the land. Then, just to down the line, having blown the cash, they once again join the queue for housing.

The KwaZulu (KZN) Land Claims Commissioner recently reported that of a batch of 110 claimants having their claims settled earlier this year, about 60% took financial compensation and only 40% the land itself.

Closer analysis reveal that of almost 40 000 claims lodged since 2014, the majority of claimants in that province preferred cash to land.

KZN Land Restitution Support Chief Director, Bheki Mbili, admits that this trend impacts negatively on the whole issue, and that a final land ownership audit will remain skewed against whites.

"We can only change the land ownership pattern if people opt for restoration. If they opt for financial compensation, the pattern stays the same. If you take the money, you don't dent the problem that currently exists," he said.

Also, reason for celebration

Nevertheless, we also need to celebrate the successes achieved elsewhere in the field of the restitution of lawful rights to land.

One such case is the recent victory for four families who faced eviction by the owner of the Olywenhout Farm, Wellington in the Western Cape after living there for over 15 years. Under an agreement with the Corporate owner, CPH Developments, a house of their own for each of the families is built between Wellington and Paarl.

The families were overjoyed and say the outcome will improve their living conditions and their wish was that other farm- and land owners would follow suit.

One of the beneficiaries, Marchallene van der Westhuizen said they were unhappy for a long time about the lack of basic services on the Wellington Farm, on occasions having to fetch water from the river.

The chief negotiator for the families, Nosey Pieterse of the Rural Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, said he was initially shocked to see the poor conditions under which they had lived, and was thrilled that the Extension of Security of Tenure (ESTA) Act had greatly assisted the negotiations process as only one of the four initial claimants had the necessary right of tenure.

He, however, also sympathised with the owner who ‘inherited’ the families when the farm was acquired.

Negotiations resulted in the new owner accepting the rights of tenure of the four families, and to compensate them with their own homes, agreeing to transfer ownership and title to the respective heads of the four households.

Broader political front

On the broader political battle front, however, the situation is more tense.

The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, recently told  Parliamen that, to achieve radical economic transformation on land reform, he would need to start with a pre-colonial audit of land ownership, -use and -occupation patterns.

The EFF, and other radical organisations, have pledged support for constitutional amendments to facilitate land expropriation without compensation.

However, that will not in itself, bring put orderly development in our now burning urban areas, and neither will it make the ‘happy endings’ we saw at Olywenhout Farm, the order of the day.

While the facts of history should inform our decision of today, it is not possible to undone the developments over centuries. The cold fact is that we today live in an industrialised country that is rapidly urbanising and dependent on a well-functioning and efficient agricultural sector to feed our population.

The fact that millions of South Africans still live on a patch of land, be it in a so-called traditional area or, on land owned by the state via local authorities with little hope of establishing title over it, has become unacceptable.

A comprehensive, holistic development plan, which includes well focused strategies for orderly urbanisation-, rural-, and agricultural development is needed. Without that, the flames of discontent and anarchy will keep on rising.

Also read: South Africa on a dangerous trajectory to anarchy

by Eve van Basten

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