At a Communal Land Indaba held on the 29th and 30th May 2015, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform acknowledged the weaknesses of the land reform programme that it ran between 1994 and 2009, and presented proposals for reforms aimed at addressing such weaknesses, and invited all participants to interrogate such reforms and make appropriate recommendations.  The question is whether these proposals went far enough to give hope to the 16 million people living in former homelands.

The acknowledgement of weaknesses of the land reform programme during the first decade and a half of the post-apartheid era, where the focus was more on hectares of land to be redistributed is to be welcomed, and less on building productive capacities and effective institutions, is to be welcomed.  The proposals presented at the communal land indaba were an attempt by the government to address these weaknesses by shifting the focus from merely chasing land ownership statistics to pursuing rural economy transformation.   This is to be achieved through implementation of a land tenure system that provides for, among other things, rural households to be issued with title deeds that they can use as collateral to raise credit and the creation of a rural development and investment financing facility to support enterprise development in rural areas.  At a communal level, there will still be communal land held under a single title deed, administered by either CPAs or Traditional Councils.

The Department assumes that people in communal areas have liberty to make their own free and independent choice of a legal entity to hold and administer their communal land.  The past experience has shown that this is nearly impossible.  In the Diocese of Mariannhill where the Church supported the land reform programme by partnering with the then Department of Land Affairs to hand over some of its farms to communities, CPAs were formed.  Some traditional leaders saw this as a challenge to their authority.  Others were very vocal in accusing the Church of creating independent communities within the areas that they (traditional leaders) regarded as under their jurisdiction.

While the idea of issuing households with title deeds is commendable in so far as it can provide greater security of tenure for households, including women and child headed households, to present people with a choice between traditional councils and CPAs has a potential of creating conflict and victimisation of those community members who may want a more democratic structure, such as the CPA.

There is no doubt that CPAs have had their fair share of challenges, and the Department acknowledges this.  Many participants at the communal land indaba called for capacitation of these structures.   The proposal to pit them against traditional leaders may amount to annihilating them.  Some recommendations from the commissions imagined a situation where CPAs would still be the landholding entity with traditional leadership taking up ex-officio role.

The Department received recommendations, and promised to incorporate them into the new communal land tenure policy.  The next step will be to publish a revised policy that would hopefully reflect the inputs of various interest groups that were presented, but more importantly, we hope for a policy that will reflect the values of the constitution, serves the interests of the poor and just.


By Philani