Security of land tenure vital for people to build wealth

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The acknowledgment that the ANC has failed on land reform is the most important thing to come out of its land reform summit at the weekend. The willingness of the party to accept that it has been the barrier to the transformation of property relations in the country, and not the constitution, is a great milestone.

It has been its denial of this fact which created the false impression that section 25 unreasonably allows for the beneficiaries of forced removals and dispossession under apartheid to perpetually enjoy privilege at the expense of the dispossessed.

There are different views about how to operationalise this constitutional imperative of equalising access to land. But what is encouraging is the consensus beginning to develop in society that the status quo is unsustainable.

The high-level panel chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe undertook a comprehensive review of the land reform landscape, progress and failures since 1994.

Change in posture of the ANC has given greater impetus to the panel report which speaks to the areas that need to be addressed using the constitution. The panel identifies two main categories of problems with land reform thus far.

The first has to do with delivery failures in the redistribution and restitution of land. For clarity, redistribution "refers to reallocation to black peoples of land reserved for white people by the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936" and restitution "is limited to people who can prove they were dispossessed of land after 1913 through racially discriminatory laws and practices".

Key concerns have to do with long delays in processing claims, corruption in the allocation of claims and the consolidation of claimants into "dysfunctional groups of people" who have no relation, leading to intractable disputes.

The second category has to do with security of tenure. People across the country feel vulnerable to dispossession even in a democratic SA. This is more so on communal land administered by chiefs.

The trend of traditional leaders asserting that they are the sole custodians of communal land, thus giving them the right to sign agreements with mining companies and investors to the disregard of rural communities, is on the increase.

It is this trend Motlanthe was referring to traditional leaders who behave like "village tinpot dictators". Farmworkers who are often subject to evictions are also included in this category.

The report highlights that "the relatively few people who do get land through redistribution and restitution do not get secure rights to the land they acquire". Security of tenure is a major impediment both in rural and urban areas.

Land in rural areas is not lying fallow because people don't want it.

Lack of title to the land makes it almost impossible to access capital to develop it. Even if they did, how would they protect their right to it without security of tenure?

The struggle in urban areas is similar where communities in some townships and informal settlements live in situations of precariousness not only because they suffer land hunger but also because those who may have won the battle for access lack title deeds.

The current debate on land is not an attack on property rights. The crux is the imperative to ensure that black people enjoy the same rights to property as whites and the black elite and middle classes. They ought to be afforded the same privilege to access land and property, and through formal ownership and security of tenure, to use their assets as collateral to build wealth.

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