n South African Journal of Philosophy = Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Wysbegeerte - Tenure rights recognition in South African land reform - research

Volume 38 Number 4
  • ISSN : 0258-0136
  • E-ISSN: 2073-4867
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Land reform has proceeded slowly in South Africa since the end of apartheid. The state is not meeting targets. For many black citizens who feel let down by sustained poverty, inequality and unemployment in the country, the slow pace of land reform is a symbolic focus of frustrations. In public discussions, consequent impatience drives anger, threats and fear. The risk that this critical state of affairs may lead to expropriation of land by the state or spur on land invasions, deters investment and slows economic growth, aggravating poverty, inequality and unemployment. At the centre of this circle of problems, tenure insecurity connects the parts and turns the wheel, dragging back land reform and development. Of the three main objectives of land reform, the first two, restitution and redistribution, depend on the third, namely security of tenure rights. South African land reform has been held back by weak social tenure rights, which land reform has reproduced. South African land administration is dominated by a Western theory of tenure rights, represented by the registered freehold title deed, by which a contract links a specific plot to a legal person. Such tenure rights are effectively secure. But the nested, layered, bundled, overlapping, negotiated social tenure arrangements of the majority of African citizens do not fit this individualistic model of title deeds. Neglected by the official system, social tenure arrangements remain relatively insecure. The imbalance in official recognition of land rights sustains colonial patterns of segregation and inequality. I outline an account of tenure rights, which accommodates a wider array of tenure arrangements, to align Western title deeds with African social tenures. This is needed in land reform if both title deeds and social tenures are to be afforded equal levels of security in land administration and reform. I show how this account improves on an influential alternative model of social tenures in the literature.

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