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Business and political interests delay urban land reform – Seri

Human rights group calls for alternative mechanisms for land tenure to be extended, even to those without title deeds

Siviwe Feketha Political reporter
Land reform is being delayed by business and political interests
Land reform is being delayed by business and political interests
Image: 123RF/LOES KIEBOOM

Powerful business and political interests have played a huge role behind the slow pace of urban land reform and redistribution.

This is according to the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri), which this week released two revised papers on urban land reform and redistribution. –

The reports were a result of a series of papers commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2019, to help inform the urban land reform debate and future implementation.

According to Seri’s report on redistribution, there was “urban silence” on SA’s land reform because of the “powerful interests vested in the urban land question due primarily to the investment value of urban land”.

The paper pointed out that these included financial interests of banks and developers, municipal interests in relation to revenue generation as well as middle-class household interests as they protected the value of their properties.

“There are political interests, too, which speak to patronage and, as recent news reports attest, corrupt practices in the allocation of farms intended to facilitate land reform,” the report said.

SA urban centres, including Gauteng metros, have been at the heart of land battles between residents and the government as people frequently invade vacant pieces of land and are frequently evicted by the state.

The human rights advocacy group called for alternative legal mechanisms for land tenure to be extended, even to those who had no title deeds.

“A title deed backlog has developed with close to 50% of subsidy properties absent from the deeds registry, meaning that about half the beneficiaries of ownership subsidies have not yet received title deeds. Despite the dominance of title, most people continue to live outside of the system of registered title deeds,” the Seri report says.

Seri called for municipal land audits that clearly distinguished public and private land holdings, as well as vacant and occupied land to be stipulated in IDPs (integrated development plans), which had set targets for equitable land access.

According to Seri, while much of the law enabling land access was in place, there was a pressing need to adopt the proposal by former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s High Level Panel report proposal to develop a Land Redistribution/Reform Framework Act, which would guide various distributive programmes by spheres of government.

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