The publication of Untitled: Securing Urban and Rural Tenure in SA (2017, UKZN Press) is an important moment for AFRA. The title – Untitled – refers to the 60% of South Africans who live on and hold land and housing they do not have title to. The book questions a key assumption: that a title deed means secure tenure, and suggests there are other locally grown ways of owning land in South Africa.
The book brings to completion action-research AFRA started in 1997 with the community of Ekuthuleni, near Melmoth. Although we couldn’t provide the tenure security Ekuthuleni wanted, the many reasons for the failure of that project are a guiding theme in the book. Those lessons are now also being carried into AFRA’s Pathways Project, particularly the importance of recording evidence in contexts of off-register land rights.
The book also reflects origins and continuity. It is a tribute to the life and work of Tessa Cousins, who died in an accident in 2011. Tessa worked at AFRA in the 1990s and co-ordinated the LEAP project, which produced the work that appears in Untitled. Leap began in 1998 when the then DLA asked AFRA to investigate why the communal property institutions (CPIs) set up to take ownership of land transferred under land reform were failing. Tessa, who was also a founding member of the Midlands Rural Development Network (Midnet), agreed and LEAP was born.
Ndabezinhle Ziqubu, AFRA’s oldest continuous staff member – 20 years this year! – was a key LEAP researcher. He was part of the team whose research produced the chapter “Leaping the Fissures”, which looks at the gaps between paper policies and practices on the ground. The key finding is that tenure security has both a procedural and substantive component, and both must be present and supported by the state for individuals, households and groups to be secure on land. Ndabe is now involved in a new AFRA project to train land reform trusts.
But continuities are also about wonderful twists of fate. AFRA has given birth to a new generation of land activists under the helm of Tessa’s daughter, Laurel. In addition to leading AFRA into the future, Laurel is active in setting up the Land Governance Transformation Network (LGTN), a network of organisations across the country working on a proposed Land Records Bill. The LGTN is thus in many respects the new Leap of the future.
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