Nelson Mandela Foundation

“In our country, the dispossession of land was also part of the oppressive apartheid system that set us one against the other. The experience of all countries everywhere is that if such wrongs are not put right, then the bitterness lives on for many generations. Our land reform programme helps redress the injustices of apartheid. It fosters national reconciliation and stability. It underpins economic growth and improves household welfare and food security.” – Nelson Mandela, 1998 celebrations commemorating the restoration of land to the community of Cremin (Kwa Zulu-Natal)

South Africa’s land reform programme is a fundamental indicator in understanding the quality of our democracy and the road we need to traverse in order to better the lives of all who reside in our beautiful land. For the Foundation, our interest in land is a manifestation of our purpose which is to mobilise the legacy of Nelson Mandela to create a more just society by dismantling intergenerational poverty and inequity.

Over and above the monumental importance of the right of return to land – namely restitution - which carries invaluable psychological and spiritual weight in fostering reconciliation and dignity for Black South Africans, the issue of land injustice hampers South Africans from meaningfully reaping the fruits of a democratic post-apartheid state. Thus, further demonstrating that the issue of land is both complex and intersectional. The latter referring to the ways in which land injustice hampers people’s access to basic services, economic opportunities and the delivery of ECD services – which has been demonstrated through our work. While often the focus of land reform efforts has been examined from a rural land perspective, an avenue we explored in 2018 when we convened a land workshop with Professors Ruth Hall and Ben Cousins from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), we have recognised the need to forward the agenda of land justice from an urban land dimension. This arising from land hunger in cities, rapid urbanisation and limited discourse on the urban land perspective.

The Intersection of Urban Land and Economic Opportunities in South African Cities

An unrelenting legacy of apartheid in South African cities manifests in urban sprawl which marginalizes the poor from the inner city depriving them of vital economic opportunities, services, amenities and transport linkages. The spatial composition of our country and the challenges in land ownership have facilitated continued subjugation and socio-economic segregation. In 2021, we commissioned three research papers with the Development Action Group (DAG) and the Socio-economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI). These papers aimed to provoke insightful discussion and discourse, exploring ways to leverage land as a catalyst for unlocking economic opportunities and enhancing the quality of life for the majority, moving beyond the notion of access to land for agriculture. The themes explored included urban land reform, redistribution and tenure security. In a virtual dialogue that we convened, entitled ‘Making Cities a Home: Achieving Urban Land Reform’, Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille affirmed the inner-city housing shortage by stating that as a government they have perpetuated apartheid spatial planning by building houses even further away from the city centres where land is cheap. Other brilliant contributions in the dialogue included Adv. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, Nomzamo Zondo, Executive Director of SERI and Querida Saal, researcher at the DAG.

The Intersection of Land and the Provision of ECD Services

In formulating our strategy to enhance ECD services, consultations with ECD Forums, other NGOs and government departments, the issue of registration and funding of ECD sites was identified as the primary challenge. Municipal land use management challenges, especially in metros, emerged as a significant barrier to ECD service registration. As a result the Nelson Mandela Foundation collaborated with the Project Preparation Trust (PPT) to commission five discussion documents. These papers address the intersection of ECD, land and local government, and were aimed at stimulating discussion and awareness about local government matters that affect ECD service delivery. All of our commissioned research also serve as a means of injecting thought leadership and providing in-depth analysis on the respective topics.

Utilising Land to Actualise the South African Constitution

On the 2nd of November 2023, the Foundation held the third convening as part of the Critical Dialogue Series, entitled ‘Does Land Still Matter?’ As public discourse has been silent on the land question for some time, this dialogue aimed to investigate whether the sluggish progress on the land issue implied that justice could still be achieved in its absence. It questioned whether the ongoing pursuit of land justice remained justified and worth tirelessly championing. The insights and robust discussion between our keynote speaker Adv. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC and facilitator Nolundi Luwaya, Director of Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC), together with responses from the audience echoed a resounding yes.

Key takeaways from the remarks by Adv. Ngcukaitobi’s SC was that “The restitution programme's symbolic value has waned, prompting a need to shift focus to redistribution for effective land reform. Second, for redistribution to succeed, the state must pursue expropriation more assertively and accept that land will come from private hands.” Moreover, that ultimately “The failure of the government to pass legislation to give effect to redistribution is unconstitutional”. This thought-provoking but invaluable closing remarks provided a clear directive for the Foundation to follow.

The Foundation will continue its work in the area of land, with the aim of moving South Africa closer to the country of Madiba’s dreams.