Land rights of SA's forgotten people
Farmer's Weekly|April 23, 2021
In this article, Prof Philippe Burger, pro-vice-chancellor of Poverty, Inequality and Economic Development at the University of the Free State, writes that South Africa is failing the poorest of the poor by not developing legislation that would strengthen the land rights of people who are living in communal areas.
Prof Philippe Burger

Former president Thabo Mbeki noted that South Africa is two nations in one: one rich and white, the other poor and black. I would argue that South Africa is actually three nations in one: the rich in cities, the poor in cities, and the even-poorer who live in communal land areas subject to the rule of traditional leaders. Virtually all black, the even-poorer are South Africa’s forgotten, with grand economic development strategies paying little attention to them.

Almost one-third of the country’s population still live in communal land areas, which are the remains of what once constituted the apartheid-era Bantustans.

Today, most communal land is trust land, formally belonging to government, but in effect managed by traditional leaders. One exception is the land that belonged to the former KwaZulu homeland, which was put under the control of the Ingonyama Trust shortly before the 1994 elections. Until his recent death, the trust, and by implication, the land it controlled (almost one-third of KwaZulu-Natal), was under the exclusive control of the Zulu king, who was the trust’s only trustee. Whether that will change under a new king remains to be seen.

Less than 20% of the working-age population in communal land areas have an income-generating job (compared with just over 40% for the country as a whole). This would rise to about 30% if subsistence farmers were included among the employed.

Tenure Rights

To a large extent, the poverty in communal areas can be linked to the lack of tenure rights. People live on and work the land, but do not have tenure security. Without tenure rights, they cannot pledge land or income from harvests as surety for loans to improve their land.

The lack of secure tenure rights is at odds with the Constitution. According to Article 25(6) of the Constitution, “A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to tenure which is legally secure or to comparable redress.”

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