What are the long-term land prospects for farm dwellers in South Africa?

This is a key question coming out of the survey of 800 households in the UMgungundlovu District being undertaken by the Pathways out of Poverty Project. The question comes up because while evictions appear to have declined, migration is increasing. Only 8.2% of the 3100 farm dwellers say that their permission to be on the farm has been withdrawn suggesting the eviction trends identified by Wegerif et al in 2005 have slowed down. However, of those who have permission to live on the farm, 28% do not sleep at home most nights, and of those, most have left home in search of work.

How do we make sense of these trends? The underlying dynamics are complex and contradictory and include:

  • Centripetal forces of migration, which operate at the destination point of migration, drawing farm dwellers, particularly young men, off farms and into the peripheries of towns and cities in search of better lives. The data tells us that young men in particular earn more from off-farm employment than do women, while women on farms earn far more from social grants than do men.
  • Centrifugal forces of migration, which operate at the departure point to push farm dwellers off farms. These include overt and constructive evictions. In these dynamics, farm dwellers leave the farm to avoid inhospitable living conditions, exploitative and oppressive employment conditions, or long-term unemployment. Just under 21% of adults are employed on farms, suggesting unemployment trends on farms make them difficult places to secure livelihoods. In addition to unemployment, 63% of households say they have received no services from the local municipality. Although many landowners are providing services to farm dwellers – a key indicator of the 64% of farm dwellers who say they have either good (27,7%) or average relationships with land owners – this clearly isn’t enough to create conditions conducive to permanent home-making.
  • However, despite these push and pull factors, another trend is also evident. Claims to land are asserted through narratives centred on an African identity that counters colonial versions of ownership. These assertions, often made by family elders, include references to graves, family homes and rural livelihoods, and to long histories on particular farms – “When the whites came and made these farms, they found us already here.” In the data, 71% of people said they or their families own the house they live, even though they know the farm is owned by someone else. Furthermore, 64% said their children or another relative would take over the house on their deaths. This strongly suggests that there is a normative dimension to farm dweller house ownership that exists alongside the registered ownership of the farm.

The intensification of party political rhetoric around a “radical land politics” bolsters the counter colonial assertions of ownership, which in turn increases the volatility of relationships between land owners and farm dwellers. The concern is that the space for negotiated settlements on farms is narrowing dangerously and rapidly. Prospects for peaceful resolution would need to be inclusive of farm dwellers, and offer a material stake in the land.

The Pathways Project has identified six models or strategies for securing the tenure of farm dwellers and their access to services, including strategies to break the cycle of violations on farms, proposals being developed by land owners, planning instruments such as spatial development plans and the Spatial Land Use Management Act, enumeration approaches currently being used in urban shack settlements, accessing existing housing and ESTA provisions and key government led investments. AFRA is in the process of talking to a range of stakeholders around these strategies, and invites interested people to make contact.

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 *