Land tenure bill must extend rights to women, not remove them from everybody

Clause 1 of the Amendment Bill claims to change the automatic conversion of land tenure rights listed in Schedule 1 into ownership, to an application for conversion into ownership. In so doing, it vests the Minister with a discretion to either approve or reject such application.

The Rahube court case is one of the instances of injustice that took place on traditional lands, where the deed of grant was tested as it applied to only males. Traditionally, men were categorised as the head of the household and therefore the one responsible for making decisions on important matters. It therefore made sense, in that context and time, for males to own land. Today, South Africa is a very different society and women have equal rights under the Constitution. As a young African woman, born into freedom, I support those rights.
On 17 May 2018 Rahube v Rahube and Others (CCT319/17), Mantshabelle Mary Rahube and Hendsrine Rahube, who are sister and brother, went to the Constitutional Court on a land dispute because Hendsrine Rahube wanted to evict his sister. 

The siblings and other family members had moved into a property located in Mabopane, North West Province, in the 1970s where they stayed with their grandmother. It is possible that the grandmother was the “owner” of the property until she passed away.  However, there is no proof that the land belonged to her as law made it clear that African women could not obtain formal rights in land because of gender discrimination.

Ms Rahube applied for ownership in her own interest in terms of section 38(a) of the Constitution, as well as in terms of section 38(c) of the Constitution, in the interests of other women who have been deprived of title to their homes by operation of apartheid laws and section 2(1) of the Upgrading Act. She also brought this application in the public interest in terms of section 38(d) of the Constitution. 

In a landmark victory for all women,  Ms Rahube won the case in 2018, when the Constitutional Court ruled in her favour as she had stayed on the land for a long time and it was unlawful for her to be removed simply due to her gender.

The big question that needs asking is why the Bill has not improved the lives of most South Africans, especially the poor? And especially poor black women? Why has it not caused more transformation and empowerment than any other measure?

The truth is that it has been ignored by all except one organisation dedicated to helping poor people achieve rightful ownership. The Free Market Foundation's (FMF) Khaya Lam (My Home) Land Reform Project has been helping homeowners get title deeds for their properties, many of whom have occupied these homes for generations but were deprived of unambiguous, fully tradeable ownership.

The FMF’s Khaya Lam Land Reform Project has made use of ULTRA since 2013 to assist homeowners in obtaining title deeds to their property and most of the owners are black women.

There's nothing in life so fulfilling than knowing the land you're currently residing on will not be taken away from you because you have ownership of it. It is also important as a mother, as I am, to provide a safe and secure place for your children. My home is in a small town in the Free State called Bethulie, where I see at first hand, all the time, parents, especially mothers, go the extra mile to provide for their families, especially the children.

At the FMF, we aim to provide dignity, security and happiness by assisting home owners to get their rightful title deeds. Home ownership is the first step on the ladder out of poverty. Real economic transformation starts with a title deed.

The Amendment is needed to end gender discrimination. But, instead of extending ULTRA rights to women, it seeks to remove ULTRA rights from everybody. Apartheid land is still in the hands of government - a black government - when, in truth, it belongs to the black people who live there. All they need is the title deed to confirm it. So why the delay?

This article was first published on City Press on 3 September 2020
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