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By Constance Mogale and Katlego Ramantsima

The Communal Land Administration and Tenure Reform Summit held in Boksburg, Gauteng at the weekend proved that the government is not fully committed to ensuring that land reform delivers on the aspirations of ordinary people.

South Africa held its last national communal land tenure summit in 2014. Given the almost decade-long hiatus, there were grand expectations from this land summit. The current patterns of land ownership in South Africa have not changed from the apartheid times, where 87% was in the hands of the white minority, and only 4% of the land was owned by the black majority.

The purpose of these summits should be to facilitate discussions and idea-sharing on land issues, but judging by the build-up to the national summit expectations weren’t high.

The national summit came on the back of hasty, exclusive, and ill-prepared provincial consultations that took place in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, and Gauteng. These were so disorganised that the national consultation took place simultaneously with the Eastern Cape consultation.

To put it lightly, the national summit which took place on 27-28 May, was a fiasco.

It was meant to create a space for representatives of the host departments – the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) – to meet with traditional leaders, experts, academics and civil society organisations to discuss the future of communal tenure and the possibilities of the transferral of land ownership on communal land.

Instead, it became a lesson on all the things not to do when hosting a summit of national importance.

Poor organisation

It was as though the government was not prepared to host a summit. Invited participants gathered at the summit without any clear knowledge of the objectives for the summit nor did they have any direction on how to prepare to participate. The hard copy of the concept document for the land summit and the program were only circulated on the second day of the event.

The participant accreditation process took five hours and was eventually abandoned. Ordinary civil society participants waited in long queues under the scorching winter sun to be accredited while they watched traditional leaders and other public officials saunter in. No Covid-19 protocols were observed in the packed accreditation hall that was earmarked for representatives from civil society organisations, many of who had traveled from far to attend. The hall was overcrowded with little ventilation, which resulted in one of the participants collapsing. The accreditation process was discontinued when people began protesting.

Community voices were stifled

Civil society is often labeled as unnecessarily critical of the government and enemies of progress, but the two departments, in their reckless negation of proper planning, offered an excellent opportunity to criticize the government. Their planning stages are always biased towards pleasing elite traditional leaders, banks, mines, and their politically connected allies at the expense of rural people. It seems that this is done deliberately, to provoke a confrontation, even where there’s a good intention to cooperate with them. 

Commissions form an important part of the summit because they afford participants the opportunity to focus on key areas of discussion and make necessary policy inputs to the government. The summit held three commissions on the following thematic areas:

  1. Land Administration and Tenure in Communal areas
  2. Spatial Planning and Land Use Management in Communal Areas
  3. Khoi-San Land related issues

All three of the commissions are of importance; however, it was necessary for communities and their support organisations to have engaged with the topics in the same way that traditional leaders were afforded. 

The alternative proposals should not come from a few delegates who have the privilege of being invited to the summit. This approach is encroaching on the spaces of affected communities and replacing their voice. 

Many of the participants traveled from far at great expense to them. Some of those who attended during the day could not stay for the engagements in the commissions to make inputs of importance to them for the government to consider. 

With the eagerness to make valuable inputs on behalf of communities, civil society organisations and other interest groups put pressure on government officials to make accommodation and transport arrangements while they take part in commissions. This demonstrates the indirect discrimination and exclusion on the basis of resources. The lack of government care and support for rural communities is a failure to recognise the sacrifice and commitment made by ordinary people to resolve this complex matter of customary tenure.

The land summit documents listed the following objectives:

  • To reflect on progress pertaining to the implementation of the 2017 Traditional Leaders Indaba resolutions; 
  • To reflect on progress pertaining to the implementation of the resolutions of the joint meeting of the Ministers of Cogta, Agriculture, and RDLR in June 2018 
  • To reflect on the presidential advisory panel report; 
  • To discuss the position paper of government which takes into account the various inputs received from relevant stakeholders; 

The concept document stated: “It is expected that the summit will emerge with recommendations on national policy and legislative framework for land administration and tenure reform in communal areas that advance rural socio-economic development.” 

In our view, the above objectives show that the summit was not meant to listen to the voices of residents of the communal land. Instead, the voices of traditional leaders were prioritised. We expected a facilitated reflection, discussions, and idea-sharing on land issues. There was a pre-written document attached to the program which was informed by the dominant view of traditional leaders and interministerial committees.

…So were women’s voice

Fearing their views would be rejected in the male-dominated commissions, women activists sourced their own space to consolidate their demands on placards. They were harassed by security.

There was no provocation or intention to disrupt the summit, yet the minister was hidden and snuck into the conference as if she was threatened.

The Alliance for Rural Democracy strongly condemns the manner in which security harassed women activists for merely making their voices heard and the way they were dismissed by the minister.

South Africa is seen by the world as a gender progressive country by electing women parliamentarians, but it is the same women in power who are now criminalizing the women they are supposed to represent.

Wasted resources

The 2005 national land summit resolutions and the work of the two latest panels that the same government resourced, were not reflected. The report that was presented in the national consultation held in the past three weeks on the learning exchange was also absent from the discussions. This fails to justify the resources used in these processes, the rationale behind the consultations; as well as the consistency of these processes leading to the summit.

It was at the 2005 land summit that the 1994 goal post of redistributing 30% of the land in five years was shifted to 2014. Is the land summit not supposed to report on progress towards that?

This summit was also supposed to reflect and report on the progress made towards ensuring the rights of women and men in communal land. The Motlanthe High-Level Panel and the Presidential Advisory Panel on land reform recommend a Redistribution and Land Records Bill to fast track the pace of land reform to the targeted groups. In light of the already overcrowded communal land with overlapping rights, the other leg of land reform – which is the Redistribution and Restitution Act – is critical. What is the progress towards finalising restitution claims?

What was apparent is that the summit was discussing proposals by male traditional leaders from a secret gathering that happened before, where traditional leaders demanded 13% of the land. The government’s way of giving their time to traditional leaders is not opposed, but ordinary communities governed by Communal Property Associations and Trusts deserve the same ratio of attention.

The event live-stream was cut short after the Deputy President and the Ministers spoke – just before civil society took to the stage to challenge the dominant narrative that propagates traditional leadership governance as the only form of rural governance.

It cannot be that people living in rural areas who have waited decades for their claims to be finalised, we’re unable to hear their outcomes.

It is unacceptable that over and above undue delays in granting people their dues and rights to land, the government acts in these ways.

The land is such a contentious issue in South Africa. And it is clear that the government has no interest in handling this matter in a way that is just, fair and transparent. Alarm bells should be ringing.


Constance Mogale is the National Coordinator for the Alliance for Rural Democracy and an MPhil student at the SARChI Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape.

Katlego Ramantsima is a researcher and Ph.D. student in the SARChI Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape.