How can the Voluntary Guidelines strengthen tenure rights in South Africa?

by Ruth Hall @RuthHallPLAAS on 10 May 2016

First published on the PLAAS website and re-posted by kind permission

South Africa faces numerous challenges when it comes to providing fair governance of land, fisheries and forests. Among these are the need to remedy the racially skewed resource regime; to secure the rights of poor people to natural resources on which their livelihoods depend; and create accessible and democratic governance regimes that are accessible, transparent and accountable to citizens.

How to use the Voluntary Guidelines?

How to do this, and how to use global guidelines to establish agreed standards for governing tenure, was the focus of a national workshop to conduct an initial stakeholder capacity assessment. The meeting, held in Cape Town on 4-6 May 2016, drew together a small but diverse range of participants – from civil society organisations, social movements, private sector, academics, traditional leaders and government – to identify priority next steps.

The FAO and the South African Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) co-hosted this workshop to discuss how to operationalize and use the Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT).

VGGT Group Photo
VGGT Workshop Group Photo
Building on awareness-raising

This followed a first awareness-raising workshop on the VGGT held in South Africa in December 2014, and a blended training programme focusing on the VGGT principle of gender equality, which took place between September and December 2015 and involved online learning, a face-to-face workshop and mentoring.

Drawing on experiences and lessons from elsewhere

The workshop also heard a presentation on the headline findings of a State of the Debate Report on progress with and lessons from implementation of the VGGT. The report is to be published on 11 May 2016, the fourth anniversary of the endorsement of the guidelines. Several elements of this global review were of particular interest to the South African participants, including the ‘Sierra Leone’ model of a national programme with significant government buy-in, inter-ministerial coordination and an inclusive multi-stakeholder platform. Much time was spent discussing whether or not the political conditions exist in South Africa to make such a model workable.  Ultimately, elements of this model featured among the agreed recommendations for next steps.

Competing views about the current situation

There were, though, substantial disagreements about the extent to which South Africa’s governance of tenure is already compliant with the VGGT.

We ought not to think that we had no measures in place to address the issues contained in them [the VGGT]’, said one government representative. ‘The Constitution covers all those principles in the VGGT. In the main, the challenge is around implementation.’

In contrast, a spectrum of civil society participants presented some of our legal and policy frameworks as being at odds with the VGGT, and specifically its principles of transparency, gender equality and democratic governance. The proposed provisions of pending legislation and draft policies were also criticised as being at odds with some of the VGGT principles.

Five priorities

After lengthy debates, there was agreement on five priority proposals for actions that should be taken in the coming two years to advance the VGGT in South Africa.

  1. A national multi-stakeholder platform: There was a call to establish a national multi-stakeholder platform to use and promote the VGGT in law, policy and practice. Government representatives agreed that there would need to be agreement on a lead department to champion the VGGT and to play a key role in convening this national platform – though there may need to be champions or focal people in each relevant department. Among the roles of this platform would be to discuss the ‘domestication’ of the VGGT and the adaptation of these principles to local conditions and dynamics. One proposal was to consolidate this into a national ‘Charter on Tenure Rights and Governance’. Monitoring gender compliance and gender equality across sectors was agreed as an area where progress is needed and a top priority.
  2. Training, awareness-raising and production of materials: Training is a priority for government officials, parliamentarians, civil society, community-based organisations, paralegals, journalists, business associations and others. There was a proposal that this should include the production of accessible materials on the VGGT in a manner relevant to the South African context, including at least one short video that can be translated into all South African languages and widely disseminated.
  3. Civil society and grassroots campaigns: Campaigns led by civil society and grassroots organisations were identified as a priority and a way to use the VGGT to enable marginalised groups to defend their tenure rights. Of urgent importance is the need to address the conditions of residents in communal areas whose informal and customary rights are inadequately protected in law and in practice; among farm dwellers who face unfair and illegal eviction; among urban and peri-urban dwellers who hold informal rights; and fishing communities that are struggling to secure fishing rights and fair governance of fishing allocations. Organisations working in these sectors can draw on the VGGT to add weight to local struggles and to advocate for improvements in laws, policies and governance institutions.
  4. Conduct legal and policy assessment: Assess current and proposed laws and policies against the VGGT, with an emphasis on the recognition and governance of customary and other informal rights. There was a call to conduct a legal assessment of the existing legal and policy frameworks governing tenure of land, fisheries and forests in South Africa. One possibility is to embed such a process within the Parliamentary High Level Panel, which is conducting a national review of the impact of legislation intended to transform and provide more equitable access to land, among other themes. But even more urgently than assessing the existing framework, there is a need for capacity to scrutinize and assess a range of pending bills that will change how tenure is governed. In the area of land tenure alone, there are five drafts laws that are expected to be tabled at Bills in Parliament this year:
  • Regulation of Landholdings Bill
  • Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land Framework Bill
  • Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill
  • Communal Property Associations Bill
  • Communal Land Tenure Bill
  1. Transparency initiative: There was a call for a transparency initiative driven by government but with broader oversight, for the disclosure of state contracts and leases; details of restitution claims on state and private land (including forestry land); land redistribution projects; the allocation of fishing rights; and commercial strategic partners contracted by the state. This was explicitly identified as a priority step in order to root out corruption. As one participant representing commercial farmers pointed out, ‘corruption is the enemy of tenure security’. Civil society participants proposed that, following the example of Liberia, the South African parliament should ratify each large-scale lease or contract between the state and private investors. Using online platforms like Open Land Contracts, government should publish these so that the terms of such deals are subject to public scrutiny.
A way forward

FAO which is supported by the UK in this awareness raising work has taken the initiative to partner with the South African government to raise awareness about the VGGT in South Africa. FAO indicated its willingness to provide further support as South African actors and institutions take forward the VGGT. The possibility of a third workshop was discussed, which could establish and formalise a national multi-stakeholder platform to direct the process and coordinate the implementation of the agreed priority actions.

There is far to go to realise the improved governance of tenure in South Africa. These discussions flagged both the challenges and some concrete actions that can be taken if sufficient leadership and trust can be galvanized towards promoting the VGGT in South Africa.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *