LREAD Perspective August 2017

LREAD Perspective August 2017

Talking is better than fighting

Why is talking better than fighting?  I used Google and came across the following insightful quote: “Discussions are always better than arguments, because an argument is always about who is right, and a discussion is to find out what is right”. This quote holds much truth for our land reform journey in South Africa.

We seem to spend a lot of energy on framing role players as being on the right side or the wrong side in terms of historical; cultural, and current economic realities. In this context land reform becomes a stick with which some must receive a beating to compensate for those who have been wronged. Land reform is a fight, and therefor there will be winners and losers.


I am therefor relieved when I see instances where people are having a discussion on land reform instead of fighting about it. A discussion holds the potential for a win-win outcome. Land reform to the benefit of all South Africans. The past month saw three such discussions I want to mention:

  1. A HSRC panel discussion on types of land ownership, chaired by Prof Ben Cousins from the University of the Western Cape.
  2. A conference hosted by the Habitat for Humanity’s Solid Ground Campaign in association with UN-Habitat, which focused on land governance and management in Africa.
  3. The National Forum, a newly established platform for land reform issues, discussed land reform in the context of our Constitution.

The HSRC panel discussion focussed on two types of property ownership: Firstly there is cadastral based ownership we associate with title deeds. It accurately describes borders and is supported within a legal framework of mortgages; inheritance of property rights, and neighbourly relationships. Secondly, there is a social system of property ownership, which is prevalent in our rural areas. In this case ownership is dictated by custom and culture. This system is much more flued and difficult to manage within the context of a western legal system on property ownership.

Some panel members argued that our current government is set on solving land tenure issues with a title deed approach, but this might not be the best approach where rural and traditional communities are concerned. More understanding and sensitivity is called for in relation to social property rights.

During the Habitat for Humanity conference, several female leaders from Africa, including Uganda’s representative of the Pan African Parliament, Jacqueline Amongin, spoke about the importance of land ownership, specifically for women. It was argued that land ownership gives women access to shelter; food security, and investment opportunities. Amongin said that “education and information were paramount to ensure women were aware of their rights to land and the right to have their names on documentation”.

Marc Wegerif, the Land Rights Policy Lead with Oxfam, said that in communities where women had stronger land rights, there were lower levels of both hunger and violence against women.

And finally, the National Forum discussion. The National Forum is made up of a network of organisations that includes three universities, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Foundation for Human Rights.

Their discussion focused on whether it was possible to achieve effective land reform within the context of Section 25 of the South African Constitution, which deals with property rights.

The Forum concluded that South Africa’s constitution doesn’t stand in the way of land reform. But it was agreed that political negligence has led to a situation of undue bureaucracy; mismanagement, and corruption. These aspects, and not the Constitution, have severely hampered meaningful land reform.

The forum reached consensus on a 10-point plan for accelerated land reform. The hope is that this plan will help break the long-standing impasse over land, and move the country toward inclusive socio-economic growth.

The 10-point plan:

  1. Adopt a human rights approach to land redistribution, framed within Section 25 of the Constitution.
  2. Recognise that current land reform legislation is not effectively implemented.
  3. Adopt new laws to accelerate land reform.
  4. Repeal existing legislation that’s inconsistent with or hampering land reform.
  5. Adopt national legislation on expropriation. The possibility of effecting appropriate amendments to the 1975 Expropriation Act should also be considered.
  6. There should be improved communication and coordination between various government departments. Currently, the location of relevant land reform mandates and competencies are spread across several departments. These should be aligned to accelerate the pace of the process.
  7. A draft bill on cultural and spiritual access to land must be developed to enable citizens’ access to cemeteries and related holy sites where their family members are buried.
  8. The courts should pronounce on the meaning of “just and equitable” compensation in Section 25 of the Constitution, to provide for a better definition and interpretation of this provision within the context of land reform.
  9. Communal Property Associations; community, and traditional leader tensions must be resolved. In addition, skills training for officials dealing with land restitution is necessary, whilst an updated land audit is required.There is need for a Land and Economy Convention, similar to the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). This was held to negotiate the country’s peaceful transition to democracy. A role for the new convention would be to address poverty, inequality and unemployment. The aim would be to restore citizens’ dignity, strengthen the economy and advance democracy.
  10. The Forum sees the 10-point plan being implemented within the context of the country’s National Development Plan.  

Conversations, and not fights, such as the above, can move land reform into positive territory. Let’s keep in talking and discussing land reform, and shape a better future together in the process.

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