7 May 2018

South Africa: How South Africa Should Tackle the Redistribution of Land in Urban Areas


Land debates are reverberating across South Africa after the country's parliament resolved to accelerate land redistribution through expropriation without compensation where necessary. Twenty four years since the advent of democracy, land remains a stark and visible symbol of dispossession and racial and income inequality.

The current wave of land reform debates is different in one key respect: there's been an emergence of an urban angle to them. And rightly so. The majority of South Africans live in urban areas. On top of this spatial apartheid lives on in South Africa's cities.

But genuine land reform requires a shift in the country's approach to urban land: it can't be seen simply in terms of its market value and its potential for profit. Land's social and redress value must be considered.

There's also the real possibility of the land debate being hijacked for political party or elite gains rather than a genuinely re-distributive agenda for poor and working class people. South Africans need to pay attention to the voices dominating land debates, and constantly ask: land reform for whom?

In spite of the challenges, the current moment could provide a golden opportunity to redefine the country's approach to urban land. I spoke to Lauren Royston, who has been working on the urban land question in the research and advocacy arena for more than a quarter of a century. She recently co-authored "Untitled: Securing Land Tenure in Urban and Rural South Africa".

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