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11 September 2018
Questioning the direction of land reform, property and tenure rights in SA

(Published - 11 September 2018)

Whether in urban land and housing matters, on farms and in rural communal areas, or even under African and Muslim customary laws, women are still worse off in most parts of society – 24 years into democracy.

This was the common view of activists, scholars and members of the audience when UWC’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) hosted a public seminar on Women and the Struggle for Land & Natural Resources recently.

The purpose of the event, among other things, according to facilitator and PLAAS Professor Ruth Hall, was to present the status and question the direction of land reform, property and tenure rights in South Africa. It also served to look at how centuries of land dispossession and discriminatory tenure systems can be overcome, and how land and fishing rights can be redistributed in an equitable way.

“I have been doing field work in the Eastern Cape and found that most people getting access to land through the land reform programme are well-off urban businessmen,” Professor Hall revealed. “In fact, the women farm workers are not benefiting from this process.

“Overall, we found that even though the policy says our land reform process must be gender equitable and promote the interests of women; only 23% of beneficiaries across the country are women. So it means we need to look at race, class and gender in conjunction with one another. That is why it is important in this Women’s Month to foreground the women voices of women activists.”

The four “prominent” women activists, who presented their work, agreed.

In her presentation on Women at the Forefront of Urban Struggles for Land and Housing, Mandisa Shandu from Ndifuna Ukwazi reminded the audience that the issue of land dispossession is an intergenerational inheritance of deprivation, poverty and exclusion, as well as of wealth and land. “So it is about finding creative ways to challenge the idea of power that exists today. Who has the power to marginalise, to oppress and to deepen inequality? And more importantly, how to we build a counter power?”

Carmen Louw from the Women on Farms Project noted that there is a continuity of women’s insecure land rights from the apartheid era to the post-apartheid era on farms, and that evictions of farm workers are on going. Professor Hall agreed with Louw’s assessment and added that over 2.3 million people were displaced from farms in the first 10 years of democracy. “More black people and more black women are forced off land than are getting it through land reform,” said Professor Hall.

Women living in communal areas are no different as they are not recognised as equal citizens, according to Constance Mogale from the Alliance for Rural Democracy. “They don’t have the same rights as women in other parts of the country, and expropriation without compensation is happening and is affecting poor and black communities, and women in these communities in particular,” she said.

Seehaam Samaai, director of the Women’s Legal Centre, spoke of the non-recognition of real relationships by legal frameworks such as African and Muslim customary law. “One of the key things is to protect women within relationships, and the link of relationships to land,” she said, referencing the ‘vat en sit’ phenomenon, for example, where women face eviction when their relationship comes to an end.

“Women are facing multiple forms of discrimination within relationships. And if those relationships are not secure they intersect with issues of violence against women, and at the end of that it leads to evictions,” said Samaai.