Khaya Lam: Urban housing is the most urgent South African land reform issue

South Africans can make a tremendous contribution towards peace and prosperity in the country. By contributing, at low cost, towards the issue of fully tradable freehold titles to those families who have occupation but not ownership rights in “apartheid” houses, they can help to wipe away one of the last vestiges of the worst crime committed against black South Africans.

For 78 years, the 1913 Natives Land Act prohibited black South Africans from owning property in land. Until its removal in 1991, no black South Africans had the right to say of their dwellings, “Khaya Lam” (this is my home).

Sol Plaatje wrote in his book, Native Life in South Africa, that the iniquitous 1913 Natives Land Act was adopted due to fears that “they [black South Africans] were buying up land at a rate of 50,000 morgen of land per annum”, a figure that Plaatje showed to be vastly inflated but which “scared every white man in the country”. Plaatje described the fierce opposition to the Land Act in the parliamentary debate over the matter and listed the names of the supporters and opponents of the Bill in one of the several votes that were taken during the debates. Sir Percy FitzPatrick, author of Jock of the Bushveld was among its opponents, in a vote that was carried by 57 votes to 32 in favour of “repression”.

In view of the adoption of the Land Act, successive governments, and ultimately through its election victory in 1948, the National Party, were compelled to provide accommodation for the majority of black workers and their families in proximity to the ‘white” towns and cities across the length and breadth of South Africa. The result was the development of “dormitory” townships, now consisting of millions of rental houses mostly owned and managed by municipalities. It is this vast stock of houses that offers South Africa an unprecedented opportunity for urban land reform.

According to official reports, 2.8 million RDP houses have been built by government since 1994 to which occupants receive registered title. There is, however, a substantial backlog in the issue of title deeds. Despite government efforts, informal housing keeps increasing due to urbanisation and the influx of immigrants.

An aspect of government efforts to provide new housing is that the occupants of an estimated 5 to 7 million “apartheid” houses, including those in traditional community areas, have been left in limbo. They have occupation rights to their houses but they do not have ownership. They live under a form of ‘house arrest’ because if they wish to move elsewhere, for example, to find jobs, they can lose their houses. This is an untenable situation for the victims of the 1913 Land Act, especially as many of them are occupying houses they built themselves, or which were built by their parents or grandparents on land they did not and could not own.

Government, using taxpayer money, cannot be expected to solve all of the problems inherited from the past. In certain instances, private initiative can solve problems that, to government, appear either intractable or that would have to wait until more pressing problems, such as providing housing to people who have none at all, have been solved.

It is into this breach that the Free Market Foundation (FMF) has stepped with its Khaya Lam Land Reform Project. Khaya Lam in Xhosa means ‘my home’. The project started several years ago with support from FNB, with a pilot project in partnership with the Ngwathe Municipal Council based in Parys, Free State. The objective of the project is to assist the municipality to provide the occupants of municipal rental housing with fully tradable freehold title deeds to their properties, at no cost, with funds provided either by sponsors or by the occupants themselves.

An important function that the FMF performs is to reduce the costs of administration, conveyancing and registration per title deed, currently R1,950 compared to R6,500 in normal transfer costs for the average Ngwathe house. The low cost is due to the volume, negotiation and good will of the parties involved. Sponsorship and self-funding has made it possible to provide 775 title deeds to residents in the Ngwathe area, with sponsorship funds being directed mainly to titling for the indigent, elderly and single parent families.

Enquiries are flowing in constantly and the Khaya Lam Project is being called on to assist with titling in other areas of the country, which include Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Grabouw. The total number of sponsored title deeds country-wide to date is 2,220. At a cost of R4.3 million, so far, sponsors have enriched some of the poorest families in the country by an estimated R222 million, a benefit to cost ratio of 52 to 1.

There are an estimated 17,000 such houses in Ngwathe alone with a total of 5 to 7 million throughout the country. At the “Khaya Lam” rate of R1,950 per house, the total cost of the transformation to tradable freehold title of all the “apartheid” houses would be about R13 billion. If 6.7 million sponsors and self-funders stepped forward, the task country-wide, could be completed. To, at last, have all of those houses owned by the people living in them would alleviate some of the harm caused by a crime committed more than 100 years ago.

Author: Eustace Davie is a director of the Free Market Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s.

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