Give me land, lots of land, but please give me a job too
Giving municipal land to those seeking a better life is welcome, but finding work in cities is the real challenge
When Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison on February 11 1990, something remarkable happened. In the weeks and months immediately after his release hundreds of “squatter camps” (as they were called, pejoratively, then) mushroomed around townships and cities in South Africa.
Many of them were named Mandela Village in honour of the great man. There wasn’t a township that didn’t have a Mandela Village or Mandela City next to it. When that name was over-subscribed, Winnie Mandela settlements followed. Then Chris Hani was murdered and his name appeared on new settlements.
The phenomenon has never really stopped. After 1994 the Mandela administration followed the lead of these settlements, installing electricity lines and water and sanitation for many in a race to catch up. The settlements have always led, though, with the government always far behind, seemingly without a plan.There has been a great migration across our land. The poor have fled rural areas, particularly the former bantustans, to seek a better life for themselves in the big cities. They want jobs. There aren’t any in the former Bophuthatswana, or the former Venda and Ciskei and Transkei. The jobs are in Joburg, Cape Town and other urban centres. Even then, these jobs are few and far between.
Families who were forced by apartheid laws to live in backyards in townships have been freed to move to these new settlements. Many had been on housing or land waiting lists for years under apartheid. Many waited even longer under this administration. When land settlements happened, they bought in. They wanted to live on a small piece of land they could call their own.
It is in this context that one should see the violent protests over settlements in Protea Glen in Soweto, Olievenhoutbosch in Midrand and Hermanus in the Western Cape. It is nothing new, either: The Gauteng province says there have been 4,419 incidents of illegal land occupation over the past two years alone.
Heart of the problem
It seems to me that successive land acts, the apartheid regime and its bantustan and job-reservation policies have gifted us with a real and urgent problem: urban land hunger.
And the failure to ignite the economies of these former bantustans and rural areas has exacerbated the problem. More than the farmland that seems to take centre stage in recent debates, this is the heart of the problem.
In the heat and noise of politicians’ appropriation of the land debate, it was therefore interesting to hear Gauteng premier David Makhura announcing that his administration would begin a process of rapid land release in which serviced stands would be handed over to those who would rather build for themselves as opposed to waiting in line for free housing.Makhura said he had instructed municipalities to work in providing land parcels, but added that those areas should be viable for bulk infrastructure for development.
“Those land parcels, for human settlements in particular, should be provided with bulk infrastructure so that there is no informalisation,” he told Eldorado Park residents recently.
It’s a welcome move. Yet one has to wonder why it has taken so long to reach such a realisation, even when again and again many scholars have pointed out that municipalities, state-owned enterprises and other government entities hold an enormous amount of land on their books.
So, what is to be done?Of course, there is a debate about agricultural land – and it should continue. It was interesting to hear advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi at the ANC land summit at the weekend talking about how the Zimbabwe land-reform project was destroyed by “elite capture” (politicians and their connected friends allocating prime farmland to themselves and their relatives).
Jacob Zuma and many of those implicated in the handing of our state-owned enterprises to the Gupta family were in the room. They did not squirm or look down in shame, as they should.
The urgent land question is urban. That question raises another, even more urgent challenge. All these people in urban centres want a better life for themselves. They need jobs. That is the real challenge, the urgent challenge. Jobs, jobs, jobs.