LETTER: State guilty of holding on to land
President Cyril Ramaphosa might have noted very little has been done to confer ownership of land to tenants
President Cyril Ramaphosa framed the celebration of Human Rights Day this week around the centenary of the adoption by the ANC of the 1923 Bill of Rights.
Turning to land matters in his address, the president quoted from this document: “That all Africans have, as the sons of this soil, the God-given right to unrestricted ownership of the land in this, the land of their birth.” Maintaining the religious invocation, one can only say “amen”.
Front of mind for the generation of the 1920s were the limits imposed on African landholding by the Land Act. And while these restrictions have been lifted, the question of ownership remains open.
The president might have noted that expectations of “unrestricted ownership” remain unfulfilled. Very little indeed has been done to confer ownership — or even to begin setting landholders on a path to ownership — on Africans in the erstwhile homelands. This has left millions of people as effective state tenants, not dissimilar to the circumstances prevailing in the pre-democratic eras.
Perhaps more astounding has been the reluctance to grant title to beneficiaries of redistribution schemes, often leaving them, too, as state tenants, subject to the vicissitudes this implies. Government policy has been to retain such land in the hands of the state, with a (possible) option to purchase available only to some, and then only after farming successfully for some years. “Unrestricted ownership” in the form of title remains largely off the table.
Indeed, the government fought an extended court battle to keep a successful black farmer, David Rakgase, from taking ownership of the land he worked, even though he had years previously secured an agreement to purchase it.
The right to hold property is a human right. While not denying the complexities of land reform, the failure to recognise land ownership for millions of South Africans is surely a failure that should be remedied.
Institute of Race Relations
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