Land reform – govt must be fair

The North West title deeds project is a step in the right direction, but it should also include farmers.

- Advertisement -

I recently received an email from the North West local government spokesperson inviting the media to be part of premier Thandi Modise’s ceremony of handing out more than 1 000 title deeds to residents in Tlhabane, the Bojanala Platinum District and Rustenburg Local Municipality. This is part of the province’s plan to hand over 9 000 properties previously held by its housing corporation.

Similar events to give title deeds to beneficiaries of the multi-million rand housing discount benefits scheme will be held over the next few months. It is obviously good news that black people are at last being given RDP houses and title deeds. And a great deal of progress has been made in this regard.

The North West government summed it up by saying that this was “an effort to promote home ownership to individuals previously denied an opportunity of owning properties they occupied over many decades”. But despite all this positive news, there is a profound contradiction in this title deed handover. Provinces, including North West, have made desperately little progress in trying to address the same issue with farmers who have been leasing government farms for more than 20 years.

- Advertisement -

The argument made by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is that if farmers were given title to land, they would sell it back to white farmers or put it up as collateral for loans, which might result in their losing the farms should they not be able to repay the money. This is an argument I can well understand. But it has not been used by government to deny house ownership to urban residents. And indeed, some new owners have openly sold their RDP houses to other people, including foreigners.

Why then are farmers being prevented from owning their farms that they too have lived on for ages?

In the issue of 26 July 2013, we reported on farmer Frekkie Sentsho, who described how he has rented land from government for years. And this is land that he and other community members have successfully claimed in a land reform deal! And North West African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa) president Gideon Morule has numerous examples of farmers, including himself, who have rented government farms for over 30 years and still cannot buy the land they were promised.

Keep in mind too that while farmers are not demanding the title deeds for nothing, RDP houses are given out free and with no questions asked. Yet government has on many occasions admitted there is a problem with recipients selling their houses, often to foreigners. Why does government continue with this lopsided restitution, treating these two groups so differently? Could it be because RDP beneficiaries have pressured government by causing havoc through violent non-service delivery protests, while farmers quietly tend their rented farms?

There is something seriously wrong with this picture. Farmers are South African residents entitled to the same privileges as all of us. Why are they not receiving them?