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Communal land: full title clarity needed

 

Cape Town – All land in communal areas should be held under full title deed, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti has said.

The possibility of communal land becoming private has long been taboo in the governing ANC in light of the risk it could be sold todevelopers.

Against this risk, however, is the need to secure rights of individual land holders who are frequently subject to whims of traditional councils and chiefs, who have authority to allocate land.

This sometimes pits the community against traditional authorities – as happened last month in Amadiba Tribal Area, where residents stood against a proposed dune mining project given approval by their chief.

Presenting his budget policy speech on Friday, Nkwinti said patterns of land ownership and control in communal areas controlled by traditional institutions had to be aligned with the constitution and a bill in this regard would be submitted to Parliament soon.

Meanwhile, a policy was being developed to give full title to households given land by collectives such as trusts and communal property associations, Nkwinti said.

In both cases – land falling under traditional authorities and that falling under communal property associations and trusts – the aim was to implement a one household, one hectare regime for subsistence purposes, Nkwinti said.

“My sense is, I don’t think traditional leaders are worried about this, it’s just that we make a lot of noise about it – we think they are.”

But it was unclear from the minister’s budget speech whether individual households would receive title deed only for the one hectare allocated for their subsistence needs, with the rest becoming the property of traditional leaders – as contained in policy proposals presented to a land summit last year.

This, commentators have argued, would open the door to precisely the kind of deal that incensed Amadiba Tribal Area community.

Professor Ben Cousins, research chairman in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at University of the Western Cape, said these policies were an open invitation for chiefs and councils to enter into such “dirty deals”.

The missing ingredient was accountability of these authorities to the community.

“You have to not allow traditional leaders control over communal land,” Cousins said.

“You have to make all the institutions, whether they be traditional authorities or elected institutions, accountable to rights holders, and that has to be to a majority of rights holders where the land is shared.

“So basically it’s a kind of democratisation of land administration.”

Nkwinti said one of the proposed measures to protect families from having their land sold from under them was to give them the right of first refusal.

The issue sometimes arose when the parents died and the eldest sibling wished to dispose of the land, or in cases where a loan had been raised against the property which could no longer be serviced.

This had happened to a number of redistributed farms, for example.

“We lost about five percent of those before 2009,” Nkwinti said. “And since that we’ve been more vigilant, we engage the banks and so on. We’ve learned this is a problem – give them title deed, they go to the bank, they look for a loan, they can’t service the loan and the land.”

Political Bureau