Farm dwellers – that is, people who live on commercial farms owned by someone other than themselves – are a heterogeneous social group whose socio-economic rights, including those to land, continue to be violated and neglected. Little progress has been made in realising the constitutional rights farm dwellers have to housing, water, sanitation and security of tenure. A key reason for this is that farm dwellers are not ‘legible’ to the state: there is no data available that enables the state to plan and implement programmes targeting them.
To address this, the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a land rights NGO, implemented a pilot project in 2018 to record the rights of 850 farm dweller households in the Umgungundlovu District in KwaZulu-Natal province. Each household was issued a record with a GPS location, property description, household members, and land and service rights. This ‘put farm dwellers on the map’, allowing them to be ‘counted in’. It facilitated progress on a farm dweller programme to address their legal rights and inclusion in the district IDP.
The pilot shows the importance of basic geo-referenced records with demographic data in realising a range of socio-economic rights for people who live in off-register contexts, such as commercial farms and urban shack settlements. It also points to a possible role for civil society organisations in spaces where state authority has little traction.
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