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Cities should lead the country’s reform process

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Researcher says a real land revolution is within our grasp

Land reform is desperately needed in South Africa, but efforts to do this should focus on South Africans who live in cities, and not just those living on rural land.
This is according to a researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

IRR consultant Marius Roodt says land reform efforts should be aimed at giving people who have tenuous land rights in cities the title deeds to their homes.
In an opinion piece, Roodt writes that empowering people by giving them titles to their land will give them dignity and provide them with opportunities they did not have before.

Cape Town recently saw an example of this method of land redistribution when the City of Cape Town gave ownership to Jassiem and Asiela Francis when they received the title deed to 76 Chiapinni Street, Schotschekloof, in Bo-Kaap, where they had been tenants for 24 years.

Read: Nostalgic moment for Bo-Kaap couple who are now proud homeowners

This method has also been strongly propagated in Joburg by Mayor Herman Mashaba.

Roodt says cities are the engine room of the economy, and should be the focus of what “could be a truly revolutionary land reform process”.

He says South Africa has a history of land dispossession and “this must be rectified to the greatest extent possible”.

“However, most people who have benefited from land reform chose to take money rather than land, showing land hunger is not the burning issue some claim it to be.”

At the same time South Africa is notsimply a rural country, and is urbanising quickly. In 1990 around 52% of South Africans lived in cities. A quarter of a century later, this had increased to 65%.

“South Africa’s future – and that of the rest of the world – is urban. Ed Glaeser, a Harvard economist, says cities are the greatest invention of humanity. Cities mean people live in close proximity, making us more innovative and productive, and boosting economic growth. South Africa must embrace this urban future.”

The government should “embrace cities as economic engines”.

Roodt says one way of making people who already live in a city feel they have a stake in it and its future is to provide title deeds to urban dwellers who do not already have them.

South Africa should also be innovative, he says.

“Where possible people who live in informal settlements should be given titles to the land they are on, especially if it’s government land. In cases where this is not possible and people have to be moved, they should be relocated to areas where they can be given title. People in RDP houses should also be given titles to their houses and land.

“Giving them titles to their land and property will unlock millions, if not billions of rand, in what is currently ‘dead’ capital.

“Giving people who have tenuous land rights in cities is where our reform efforts should focus which is not to say land reform in rural South Africa is not as important.”
He believes stripping all South Africans of their title deeds – as the EFF wants to do – will destroy any possibility of the country becoming a prosperous society, with opportunities for all.

“A real land revolution is within our grasp – we must take it.”

Cape Town’s population up 50% in 20 years 

  • Between 1996 and 2016 the population of Joburg rose from 2.7 million to 4.9 million, an increase of 82%.
  • Of South Africa’s other metros, Cape Town, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni saw population increases of more than 50% over this period. 
  • Rustenburg saw its population nearly double between 1996 and 2016. All the country’s urban areas – except for Buffalo City (East London) and Emfuleni (Vereeniging) – saw increases of more than 20%.
  • Just under 40% of South Africa’s population lives in one of the eight metropolitan municipalities, and the economic output of these eight cities is “far more than that”.
  • The combined economic output of the eight metropolitan municipalities accounted for nearly 60% of South Africa’s gross domestic product in 2016. Joburg alone accounted for 15% of economic output, despite having about 9% of South Africa’s population.”

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