Nkandla lease debate

2013-06-17 10:00

The R800/month lease for Zuma’s homestead saga has been interpreted in many ways.

Our front page story last week about President Jacob Zuma’s R800/month lease for his Nkandla homestead sparked a debate on Twitter.

Some people interpreted it as a sign that we did not fully grasp the complexities of the land tenure system used in the former homelands, and that people generally pay symbolic sums of money to traditional authorities for land use.

After all, they did not see why the mound of land on which the president’s sprawling KwaDakwadunuse residence is built was being singled out for attention when many homesteads falling under the Ingonyama Trust Board probably do not even have leases.

The idea of a lease in communal areas is different from the way the concept is understood in urban areas, and the money people contribute to the community trust is not determined by the size of their houses or the land they occupy.

This obviously stems from the past, when people contributed livestock to the commonwealth to help the destitute in their midst.

While there are times when companies have been accused of abusing communal lands to the detriment of communities – for example, Parliament recently probed claims that Shell was paying R384 per year in Mgababa for its two garages on both sides of the N2 freeway – there are countless examples of areas where communities seem to have benefited from charging commercial rates to businesses in their areas.

The community of KwaXimba, between Pietermaritzburg and Durban along the N3 in KwaZulu-Natal, is a case in point.

But there is more to the issue than just Zuma’s lease or title to the KwaNxamalala land. And that, for me, is the continuing inequity that defines land ownership and tenure in the countryside.

The land control regime

that applies to the 2.8?million hectares of land that falls under the trust administered by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini is pretty much the same dispensation that applies to communal lands in other former homelands, which is about 14.4?million hectares.

This land is administered by traditional leaders on behalf of their communities, and the estimated 16?million people who live or work on it do not have perpetual individual or family title to it.

It is an indictment on the ANC-led national government that almost 20 years into our democracy, black families in the countryside still do not have anything that resembles formalised land tenure security.

When government attempted to effect reforms to communal land tenure about 10 years ago, we ended up with a piece of legislation called the Communal Land Rights Act, which critics lambasted for reinforcing existing land ownership patterns.

Thankfully, the Constitutional Court declared that law unconstitutional in 2010.

But as with other aspects of the government’s land reform project, changing land tenure in rural areas has limped on incredibly slowly.

While some people might argue that rapidly growing urbanisation means black South Africans do not hunger for land as much as they did in the past, research by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies shows that about 45% of black people still want land for food production.

Interestingly, a Human Sciences Research Council study found that the demand for land came mainly from people living in rural areas.

So the need for land reform in the countryside is just as pressing as it is in the cities.

I hear the rural development and land reform department is looking at policy proposals to reform tenure so that title to land vests with families, while giving the community and the state the first right of refusal when that land is sold off.

This is obviously to avoid a repeat of something like the Kenyan experience, where individual peasants sold their land to the rich following that country’s land reform, and ended up as serfs on their alienated land.

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