Time to get rid of the apartheid township
MUNICIPAL government throughout South Africa still owns upwards of five million urban plots that are occupied by previously disadvantaged people.
Many of these people, denied in the past of the right to own any property by the apartheid government, have lived on these properties for their entire lives. The problem with this state of affairs is that, 22 years after the end of apartheid, these people are still accepted as being tenants rather than property owners.
The Free Market Foundation (FMF) and a handful of businesses are apparently the only civil society organisations in South Africa that have taken note of this. There are others, however, who continue to push for more government ownership of property, rather than ownership by the people.
In June, for example, the FMF, in cooperation with Christo Wiese and the City of Cape Town, were successful in having 100 plots of councilowned property in Cape Town converted to full ownership for the current occupiers.
Last year, the FMF and First National Bank did the same in Tumahole, Parys, where Wiese was also a sponsor. The project, known as Khaya Lam (My Home), is aimed at giving inhabitants of councilowned property freehold ownership of the property they live on.
The project embraces the concept that ownership does not only lead to immense economic benefits but also implies dignified living for the owner.
In Africa, individuals and communities used to have a very close relationship with the land they lived on.
During the colonial era, however, the Eurocentric institution of “expropriation” burst onto the scene, which deprived tens of millions of people of their land and property.
Today, expropriation, in all its colonialist glory, continues to be embraced by our democratic government. With the passing of the new Expropriation Act, our ostensibly postapartheid government is now itself enjoying the ideological fruits of colonialism.
Expropriation in the colonial era meant that the government could take property from its rightful owners and keep it for itself or hand it out to friends of the state. While much of the latter did indeed happen, vast tracts of land were kept by the government and eventually became “native reserves”, and, of course, the urban township.
The result deprived the majority of South Africans of the immense sense of pride and dignity that comes with having certain entitlements to property.
The urban township continues to exist today in much the same form as it did a century ago. The municipal govern ment, or some other branch of government, usually owns the land upon which the township inhabitants are settled and so they are unable to sell legally, let or mortgage the property.
Township dwellers are not able to regard “their” properties in the same way as other South Africans in the suburbs. This deprivation of ownership leads directly to a lack of investment by the inhabitants of these properties and the absence of a property market.
If we wish to see townships become middleclass suburbs, we must address ownership. The socialist experiment of state ownership has clearly failed and produced bland, poor and unappealing areas where the government does not care to maintain the millions of plots and homes which it officially owns.
This is nothing new, for we know only private owners have a true incentive to maintain and develop their property.
It is unthinkable that land reform in South Africa, for some, seems to mean more of the same and not the advocating of the extension and strengthening of property rights for the poor and vulnerable people.
I believe it is time for real land reform. The legacy of apartheid can be healed only when we distance ourselves from the apartheid statecentric mindset.
— Free Market Foundation.