Nelson Mandela Foundation

On 8 July 2021, the Nelson Mandela Foundation facilitated a virtual dialogue entitled ‘Making Cities a Home: Achieving urban land reform’. This dialogue also formed part of the Mandela Month activities, which this year is themed ‘The rule of law and food for all’. The dialogue can be watched on the Foundation’s YouTube channel.

The issue of land reform is central to realising a more just and equitable future. The Nelson Mandela Foundation believes that the issue of land reform can be used as a yardstick to measure progress and redress as a country, and while much of the focus has been on rural land, there is a need to focus on urban land in the context of urbanisation. There is a range of options available to government, which includes making use of publicly-owned land parcels for this purpose. 

Government has previously underscored the strategic role that publicly-owned land parcels can play in realising urban land reform, and has also made a commitment to expediting efforts to identify and release public land that is suitable for smart and urban settlements. These declarations are in line with recommendations made by the Expert Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.

While urban land reform is a long- standing issue, COVID-19 also presents us with an opportunity to accelerate social and economic transformation, including spatial transformation.

The dialogue, Making Cities a Home, included Patricia de Lille, Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure; Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, South African, lawyer, writer and activist; Nomzamo Zondo attorney and the Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI); as well as Querida Saal, researcher at the Development Action Group (DAG). This dialogue was also an opportunity to launch three papers on urban land reform, which the Nelson Mandela Foundation commissioned with DAG and SERI. The aim of these papers was to stimulate informed discussion and debate.

Mr Sello Hatang, Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation welcomed the discussants and viewers while Ms. Sumaya Hendricks, Acting Dialogue and Advocacy Manager at the Foundation, provided background to the commissioned papers. In his welcome, Mr. Hatang emphasised that as a people, we cannot speak of a post-apartheid South Africa, if our spatial composition and ownership still reflect apartheid because so much of apartheid was about keeping people apart, inhibiting land ownership and using land disposition as a tool for

Recognising the anxieties and fears around land reform conversations, Mr. Hatang referred to the late Madiba who said that while South Africa is no different from other countries in that we too have fought wars over land, unlike other countries “the dispossession of land was also part of the oppressive apartheid system that set us one against the other. By making most South Africans landless in the country of our birth that system produced inequality, division and poverty.” Mr. Hatang said the work we have to do around land reform needs to also extend to by-laws and other regulations which are biased against the poor and those with insecure land tenure.

Nomzamo Zondo spoke to the commissioned papers done by SERI. Some of the inputs she spoke to included the Land Redistribution Framework Act identified by the High Level Panel & Presidential Advisory Panel; establishing an Office of Equitable Access to coordinate implementation; equitable access measures; and what can be done now. Querida Saal from DAG stated that it is clear that the state and state-owned enterprises hold a significant number of strategically well-located land parcels and buildings which are under-utilised or lying vacant.

DAG’s model of urban land reform calls on the release of well-located, vacant and unused public land, so that it can be put to best use and in the public interest eg. the development of social housing.

Minister de Lille stated that despite legislative and policy interventions to eradicate these inequalities since 1994, the historically skewed pattern of ownership remains. The Minister also said that the state must acknowledge that they have not done well in dealing with apartheid spatial planning, “In fact we continue to perpetuate by building houses even further away because we were using cheap land far away from the city centres.” The result being that we have taken our people further away from opportunities.

In conversation with the Minister, Adv. Ngcukaitobi, author of the recently released book ‘Land Matters, South Africa’s Failed Land Reforms and the Road Ahead’, asked the Minister important questions about population numbers to further understand the scale of the problem. He used an example, the 2018 World Bank figures state that there has been 62 percent of urban migration since 1994 which he said shows that the homelands have been abandoned at a rapid pace. Minister de Lille responded by confirming those statistics and said South Africa will by 2030 see at least 60 to 70 percent of the country’s population living in cities.

It was clear from the engagements that the need for urban land reform was integral and that efforts needed to be accelerated to achieve this.

The COVID-19 moment is one of change, uncertainty, and elevated insecurity and can be used as an opportunity for planning, advocacy and implementation that helps to realise the kind of communities and country we want to live and thrive in. This stems from the conviction that life should not go back to normal and that we must be moved to action in ways that can change our trajectory.

The commissioned papers cover the following topics, and are accessible below:

  • An urban land reform model: Unlocking well-located publicly-owned land to deliver affordable rental housing in South African urban areas
  • Urban land redistribution: A proposed approach to equitable access to urban land
  • Urban tenure security: A proposed approach to urban land tenure reform