Lagging: The village of Nkandla near President Jacob Zuma’s compound, which cost taxpayers about R240m, is the country’s 20th-poorest ward, with 81% of people living below the poverty line, research by the Human Sciences Research Council shows. Picture: THEMBINKOSI DWAYISA
Lagging: The village of Nkandla near President Jacob Zuma’s compound, which cost taxpayers about R240m, is the country’s 20th-poorest ward, with 81% of people living below the poverty line, research by the Human Sciences Research Council shows. Picture: THEMBINKOSI DWAYISA

The building housing land records in Mount Frere, a district of the former Transkei, is an iron shack. Rickety wooden shelves are weighed down by piles of ledgers and fraying folders.

Researcher Mike Kenyon showed a picture of the land records "office" to a recent policy conference on inclusive growth to illustrate land administration in the former homeland. Despite intense economic activity in livestock, construction, personal services and even marijuana cultivation, there are few effective institutions and murky regulations on land use and planning. "So anyone who wants to do a development project gives up or does it below the radar," he said.


Kenyon is one of several land researchers who contributed to the Research Project on Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth (REDI3x3), an independent project initiated by the Treasury in 2013 to promote evidence-based policy making. The project, which is nearing completion, has examined the drivers of persistent poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Spatial inequality within cities and between urban and rural areas is pronounced. The former "homelands", where about 40% of the population still live, are the poorest. Research by Michael Noble and Wanga Zembe of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) shows that 19 of the 20 poorest wards in the country are in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Port St Johns, in the heart of the Wild Coast, is the poorest.

Nkandla — the site of President Jacob Zuma’s homestead, which cost taxpayers about R240m — is the 20th-poorest ward with 81% of people living below the poverty line.

Uncertainty of tenure and poor land administration are major blocks to development. Rosalie Kingwill, of the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, says two-thirds of South Africans hold off-register land rights.

After 1994, she writes, a flurry of legislation to secure tenure for vulnerable users was passed. But two decades into democracy, "land rights, though more protected, are legally murkier than before".

Customary and informal rights are "relegated to the bare minimum of pre-emptive protection against eviction or land grabbing by the elite [and] … have not been translatable into legally recognised property rights that can be used to leverage economic benefits", she adds.

Cases in the former Transkei suggest land rights are secure "locally" but not "in the world at large". When developments arise, mining companies apply for licences or the government wants to invest in infrastructure, the processes are "cloudy and inconsistent or at times entirely absent". As Kingwill put it at a conference, "we moved from administration with no rights, to rights with no administration".

Kenyon says: "There is still a hodgepodge of legislation dealing with land rights: some of it goes back to colonial times....

"In other areas, particularly around the Pondoland coast, the system of [permission to occupy] has collapsed."


Although the Pondoland coast has significant tourism potential, companies shy away from investing in major infrastructure because certainty of tenure is lacking.

Independent researcher Siyabulela Manona says land administration is in "total disarray". Permission to occupy is the only evidence of rights.

But in Willowvale, Eastern Cape, as in Mount Frere, the records "are kept in tin shacks. Sooner or later, this thing will come to bite us".

There are 160 illegal mining operations along the Wild Coast. Sand mining and forestry is destroying the environment; thus a major tourism attraction is being "plundered". Where there is legislation, "there is lacklustre enforcement".

Complicating matters is the "ambivalent" role of traditional leaders, says Manona. "While we have one national framework for traditional leaders, there is no legislation that specifies their power in relation to land administration."

There is little co-ordination between government departments and local authorities. In Willowvale, for instance, different government departments use different boundary delineations and even place names, so there are no common reference points for service or infrastructure delivery.

This has implications for development projects, such as a 300ha macadamia project in the area on communal land. The government invested more than R40m in the project, which promised 300 jobs.

But there is contestation between "a notion of individual land rights and a community project". Now, "everyone is lined up to go to court to sort out the battle of whether it’s individual tenure or communal tenure", Manona says.

Largely, the old homelands play the same role as they did in the apartheid era as labour-sending areas. Although more people are moving to urban areas from rural areas, our research shows that in many cases, people still retain strong ties with their home villages.

The HSRC’s Leslie Bank has found that many families who live in the informal settlement of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay, Cape Town, come from the Gatyana area in the former Transkei and invest money earned in urban areas back in rural areas — but not primarily in agriculture. Instead, they are improving their homes and homesteads. "Younger people in the city want to remain anchored in their rural homes," he says.

Siblings often pool money to improve their rural family homes. In many senses, it’s a new form of citizenship "that straddles the urban-rural divide in ways that are still poorly understood". This "double-rootedness", Bank says, is driven partly by the insecurity and indignity of shack life but "also by a desire to reconfirm a connection to the rural homestead as a place of identity, belonging and future retirement". The result is a "de-agrarianism" in rural areas and a lack of investment in an urban future. In her research on the "perfect storm" that led to the Marikana massacre, economist Neva Makgetla of Trade and Industry Policy Strategies identifies factors that exacerbated miners’ disaffection in the North West platinum belt. Makgetla says workers earned about double the median wage in mining but lived in some of the most appalling conditions in the country. Many workers came from eastern Pondoland.

Wages and employment rose steadily from 2001 to 2011 as the platinum price increased. Small mining towns, such as Rustenburg and Madibeng, grew by more than 50%, almost as fast as urban areas in Gauteng. But housing and infrastructure did not keep pace. By 2011, one-third of people in North West towns lived in informal settlements, compared with one-fifth in Gauteng.

"If you lived in Wonderboom or Marikana or Freedom Park in 2011 … you were significantly more likely to be employed, and if employed, to earn above the median," Makgetla told the policy conference. "But you were also seven times more likely than other South Africans to buy water from a vendor, four times as likely to live in an informal house, twice as likely to have a pit latrine and to be without municipal refuse removal, and half as likely to have a formal house with piped water inside."

Most platinum workers earned too much to be eligible for RDP houses but too little to get a loan to buy or rent a home. When they asked local chiefs for land to build better houses, they demurred because the miners were not "from there".

"This raises serious questions about citizenship," Makgetla says. It shows a lack of effective policies to help workers earning above a median wage to secure housing. Added to this were dysfunctional and corrupt municipalities. Most miners, she says, did not vote in the local government elections because they felt so alienated.

Rural development is hamstrung not only by chaotic land administration but also by a lack of services. "If there are no toilets, there are no tourists," Kate Philip said at the conference.

Philip, who has worked on development strategies along the Wild Coast, says agriculture in the region has declined, and there are huge market barriers for small-scale producers.

Best, Philip says, is to start by improving people’s life chances, focusing on child health, education and roads and sanitation. This could do more to boost rural development than any number of "flagship" projects.

Until then, the apartheid patterns of rural poverty, labour migrancy and urban slums will continue to dominate.

Green works for REDI3x3 and Leibbrandt is its director. The original papers can be found on

Please sign in or register to comment.