Big plans for rural land rules

2015-03-08 15:01

A new bill seeking to give those who live in rural areas more control over their land is in the works, but it may be ‘unrealistic’

President Jacob Zuma has hinted at drastic changes to communal land-rights laws: a new bill seeking to give those who live in rural areas more control over their land is in the final stages of being drafted.

President Zuma told the National House of Traditional Leaders on Thursday that a new policy was on the way.

It would give households in rural areas clear rights on land allocated to them, allow their children to inherit the land and enable them to use the land rights as collateral to access credit and enter into investment partnerships.

But a land-rights activist has dismissed these possible changes as unrealistic and in contradiction to what the published Communal Land Tenure Policy proposes.

President Zuma stunned traditional leaders in Parliament when he said government had made changes to the Communal Land Tenure Policy. He said he expected the Communal Land Rights Bill to come before Cabinet during the course of the year.

“The policy aims to clarify, strengthen and formalise the land rights of communal-area residents – especially the vulnerable – through the introduction of institutionalised land-use rights to be held by households,” he said.

The president said this intervention would enable people to have clear rights on land allocated to them, and enable them to play an active role in how land was distributed, used and allocated to investors.

“In this way, the lives of thousands of our people who live on communal land will change for the better as they will be able to use the land allocated to them as an economic resource,” he said.

President Zuma also called on traditional leaders to ensure that they made their submissions when the bill was published for public comment.

At the moment, much rural land is in the hands of traditional authorities, who hold such properties in various trusts. President Zuma’s own Nkandla residence is on land owned by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini through the Ingonyama Trust.

Land activists are, however, sceptical of President Zuma’s announcement on communal land rights.

Nomboniso Gasa, senior research associate at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society, said the president’s remarks on communal land rights contradicted the communal tenure policy that was published in 2013.

“What he told the National House of Traditional Leaders is, quite frankly, impossible and will not happen.”

Gasa said that although the published policy did mention the introduction of institutionalised land-use rights to be held by households, a closer reading of the 2013 policy presented a different reality.

She said the policy was premised on the understanding that “traditional communities” were grouped according to old Bantu authority boundaries.

“It proposes that land will be transferred within the boundaries set in the act, and these were exactly the same boundaries that were in the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951,” Gasa said.

According to the Communal Land Tenure Policy of 2013, title deeds will be transferred to traditional councils and communal property associations.

“That is full ownership of the land, including the land left to the family unit,” said Gasa.

This means individuals, families and family units will have rights to the part that is designated to them.

“Now, I’d like to see a bank that gives loans to people who have rights to land use and not full ownership. These rights to land use, identified in the Communal Land Tenure Policy, will be subject to the ownership that is vested in the traditional councils,” she said.

Linda Page, spokesperson for the department of rural development and land reform, said the department was in the process of writing a bill on communal land tenure, which would be published this year.

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