KB.L Land News Digest South Africa and region 19 November - 31 December 2020 | Land Portal

The changing Covid context

In our last update (19th of November 2020) we indicated that there were fears that cluster outbreaks could lead to a second wave of Covid infections in South Africa. Unfortunately, these fears have been realised and South Africa is back on Level 3 lockdown restrictions. Total recorded cases now top 1 million, while another 8469 people are officially reported to have died from the virus.

Projections of the actual death rate are much higher as can be seen from the report on excess deaths prepared by the South African Medical Research Council.

Data from December for the Eastern Cape indicates the widening gap between reported Covid 19 deaths and natural excess deaths.

This trend is reflected to a greater or lesser extent across the nine provinces in the country, and has been particularly noticeable in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.


The ad hoc committee on land expropriation which has been exploring constitutional amendments to clarify the circumstances under which land could be expropriated without compensation was unable to complete its business by the end of 2020. In December Parliament extended the deadline to the end of March 2021.

In a separate but linked process the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure requested written submissions on the Expropriation Bill (B23-2020). The submissions are required before 10 February 2021. The purpose of the Expropriation Bill is to repeal the existing Expropriation Act (No. 63 of 1975), provide a replacement legal framework while making provision for cases where expropriation with nil compensation may be just and equitable. Given that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, the Expropriation Bill has to align with whatever form a constitutional amendment will take.

Farms and Farmworkers

On 16 November the Western Cape Department of Agriculture announced that it would provide a R12 million support fund to provide relief to employees in the local wine tourism sector. The wine sector has been adversely impacted by the combination of Covid 19 and measures to restrict the sales of alcohol in a government bid to keep the pressure off healthcare facilities as they battle to manage the pandemic.

On 29 November The Mail and Guardian ran the first of a two-part series on farm evictions in Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal. The features highlight the vulnerability of farm workers as occupiers on land owned by someone else. Nokuthula Mthimunye, a spokesperson for the Association for Rural Advancement has observed a rise in the insecurity of tenure of farm dwellers because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.  “Several people have lost employment on farms … Those whose accommodation is linked to employment have also lost a place to live.”

In June DefenceWeb reported on an SANDF plan to establish the Mzansi Home Guard. On the 3 December IOL carried a report on co-operation between SANDF and AgriSA to deploy rural security (home guards) to help curb farm murders and improve rural safety and security.

Quite how the SANDF has negotiated an agreement, seemingly without the involvement of SAPS who are responsible for implementation of the rural safety strategy has yet to be explained. Back in 2003, President Thabo Mbeki announced the phasing out of the SANDF Commando System and the creation of a new system. It seems that the current initiative reinserts the SANDF in the picture as they are responsible for the training and presumably the remuneration of the proposed home guards. This raises important questions about the monitoring and oversight of the functions and actions of the proposed home guards and their status in law. We will aim to provide more clarity on this in future updates.

Food security

A wide range of topics are covered in this section. The Daily Vox of the 30 November carried an interview with Nazeer Sonday – an activist who has long been campaigning for the protection of the Philippi Horticultural Area in Cape Town which has been threatened by planned housing and property development:

The PHA is very important for Cape Town but also South Africa. It supplies the city with around 200 000 tons of vegetables per year is produced in the PHA… if we don’t have this area, food will have to be imported from other areas and other provinces and from overseas. Importing food means more expensive food with a lot of added carbon miles. The PHA ensures that people are getting healthy food without the environmental damage.

On 5 December Minister Didiza announced a further round of support for smallholder farmers who can obtain farming input vouchers up to the value of R9000.

The 2020 Countdown on Health and Climate Change Report published in the Lancet was discussed in a report carried in Maverick Citizen (8 December). The report highlights how one of the impacts of climate change is shorter growing seasons.   This means that the crops mature too quickly, which leads to lower than average yields. The report notes that in 2019, South Africa experienced a reduction in crop growth duration — compared with a 1981-2010 baseline — of 12.8% for maize, 8.9% for soybean and 5.4% for winter wheat.

This has an impact not only on the price of food, but food security and household nutrition, particularly for poorer households.

In 2016, 27% of children under the age of five were reported to be stunted. This figure seems set to rise in the face of the combined impacts of food insecurity related to the pandemic and climate change.

Prof Michael Aliber interviewed Wandile Sihlobo in the Conversation (14 December) for his take on how Covid recovery plans need to think about agriculture. Sihlobo makes the case for “embracing technology (information technology, mechanical and biotechnology) and private sector partnerships”. He is an advocate for land titling which he argues will help commercialise and grow the agricultural sector. It is clear from the interview that Aliber is sceptical about Sihlobo’s approach. This suggests a need for more in-depth discussion and debate about possible future agricultures and the up and downstream impacts of different approaches.

Land governance and administration

Court proceedings brought by rural women against the Ingonyama Trust shaped the dominant stories in this section. In the same period land activists mourned the passing of Sizani Ngubane the director and founder of the Rural Women’s Movement which brought the legal action who died just before Christmas.

The RWM tribute to her highlighted her immense courage and contribution:

Reflecting on the life of uGogo Sizani we are reminded of Cornel West’s proclamation that, ‘…justice is what love looks like in public’. For decades, spanning minority-rule to the present, uGogo Sizani was a freedom fighter for love both in public and in private.

Earlier in the year Zukiswa Pikoli profiled ‘Mam’ Sizani who was born in 1946 in the KwaZulu-Natal village of KwaMpumuza in the uMgungundlovu District. She was raised by her mother, a domestic worker who earned R8 a month while her father worked in Johannesburg as a migrant worker.

A woman of great courage Mam Sizani recalled that:

I have been defamed… arrested for allegedly breaking into my own house… I have been beaten up and nearly lost my life after a group of men broke the door on a farm and left me thinking I was dead. I hear some white people saying they are attacked on farms because they are white – I was nearly killed on the farm but I’m black.”


Yet she keeps going:


I get motivated by seeing the smiling faces of women who have lost hope that we will ever win our struggles.

Chris Makhaye from New Frame (7 December) provides important background on the court case which seeks to declare that the Ingonyama Trust has acted unlawfully and in violation of the Constitution by cancelling residents’ Permission to Occupy (PTO) certificates and concluding residential lease agreements with holders of PTOs and/or informal land rights.

Kim Harrisberg writing for the Thomson Reuters Foundation provides an unusual twist on the dispossession narrative with an article entitled Rural South Africans fight for Zulu king to return their land.

According to the Legal Resources Centre:

Since 2007, the Trust has been “unlawfully compelling (residents) to conclude lease agreements and pay rental to the Trust to continue living on the land… The homes they have built now belong to the Trust. Most egregiously, residents are required to pay rent and face eviction from their land if they default.

Land policy

Several news outlets reported on Deputy President David Mabuza’s statements on land reform in November. Following the government decision to release large amounts of state-owned land it quickly became clear that much of this land had been acquired as part of the process of ‘homeland consolidation’ under apartheid and is already used and occupied. According to the Deputy President (IOL, 29 November 2020) government was aware of this all along:

We decided to advertise and simultaneously take this inquiry. The purpose is not to penalise people. The purpose is to dispose of this land correctly and put this land in the books…We are not to chase people that make a living on the land because our intention is to make sure our people are given land to make a living.

On 4 December  Agbiz Head of Legal Intelligence Theo Boshoff argued that Covid-19 could have a “silver lining” which in his view would be “a more practical approach to land reform, agricultural development and other economic policies.” Boshoff singles out:

  • the release of state land,
  • the registration of producers in a single farmer register as the basis for access to support,
  • the availability of blended finance (combining commercial finance and state grants),
  • the policy on comprehensive producer development support policy.

According to him these are all markers of this new practical turn.

However, three days later the violent shadow side of state incapacity and policy failure was starkly revealed when Mrs Nontembiso April (56) and Mr Takayina April (66) were shot down by assassins on Draaifontein Farm in the Sakhisizwe Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape.

The CALUSA website issued a statement on this killing which had very little news coverage nationally.

The Aprils were farm dwellers living on land redistributed by the state who had become land activists demanding that the rights of farm dwellers be recognised and that they too should be able to access land through land reform.


Mrs April in particular has been a formidable activist in the struggle for democratic governance and equitable access to land for all throughout South Africa. She and her colleagues are victims of a failed post-1994 land reform programme which marginalises farm dwellers and gives land to elite black African farmers who are hostile to farm dwellers and continuously threaten them with evictions.

Nothing has since been reported on progress in arresting the two men who shot the couple in broad daylight in front of their 19 years old son. According to Eastern Cape police spokesperson Colonel Sibongile Soci “the motive for the killings was unknown and they would not speculate on it”. (Citizen 9 December, 2020)

Land Rights and Mining

The murder of Fikile Ntshangase, the death threats to Nonhle Mbuthuma and the continuing struggles of mining affected communities dominate the news in this section. Ed Stoddard writing in the Business Maverick (19 November) provides the backstory on the Somkhele mine expansion, the resettlement of affected families and the disputes over compensation on offer. While Petmin the unlisted company behind the mine expansion insists that it has acted reasonably and that only minority voices opposed to mining are being heard Johan Lorenzen, a lawyer at human rights firm Richard Spoor Inc Attorneys, which represents the 17 households that have not agreed to the terms of their relocation, argues that the “continued public statements that 17 households’ demands for fair compensation threaten the closure of the mine intensify these households’ vulnerability to violence and intimidation”.

Stoddard notes holders of mining rights are required since March 2020 to publish approved social and labour plans on their websites. When the Daily Maverick article was written no such plans were publicly available as required. However this has since been rectified and a social and labour plan 2018-2022 is available on the Petmin website.

Mary De Haas (Daily Maverick 29 November) makes the case for phasing out coal mining.

Mining does not alleviate poverty – rather, it entrenches inequality. What these areas need is true, community-driven development, utilising all the environmental, agricultural and tourism potential of the area it is part of.


Mining activities bring conflict, for only a select few benefit from what are generally low-grade jobs, the security of which relies on the vagaries of international markets.

She also provides analysis of the divide and rule tactics alleged to advance the expansion of coal mining in the Tendele area and which preceded the murder of Mrs Ntshangase.

In a more optimistic take on mining and community relations Stoddard also writes about the Mothlotlo Empowerment Deal in which the Mothlotlo community in Limpopo, is in the process of being relocated to make way for an expansion of Amplats’ Mogalakwena mine.

Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor, who has worked with the community for more than 15 years and represented their interests in the transaction, said giving households direct equity was a departure from previous BEE deals.

According to Stoddard:

A community that has been at odds with Amplats over the years is going to get partial ownership of an asset that should deliver revenue from work contracted with Amplats, which is cash-flush at the moment.


Numerous restitution stories have been covered in this final period of 2020.

The land claim of the Prudhoe community went all the way to the Constitutional Court which found in their favour. GroundUp reports a statement by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) that the case was finally resolved “after two trials in the land claims court, three appeals to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and two trips to the Constitutional Court”. Most of the appeals came from the Mazizini Community who laid claim to the land themselves. The Constitutional Court dismissed the Mazinini  appeal, bringing the saga to an end. However, while the Prudhoe community may celebrate an end to their 22 year struggle, we have seen elsewhere what the courts decide is not always implemented on the ground.

Rehana Rousseau has recently written a book entitled Predator Politics which explores how corruption has derailed land reform and conservation programmes in Mpumalanga. It details Deputy President David Mabuza’s alleged role in “an extraordinary history of alleged graft”.

Greg Nicholson (Our Burning Planet 4 December) provides a review of a land dispute between Fred Daniel and David Mabuza which is the subject of the book. He singles out Rossouw’s analysis of how leaders of the KaNgwane homeland effectively became a part of the ANC provincial government after apartheid, and “seamlessly carried their scams from the homeland into the democratic government”.

The book alleges that Mabuza as Agriculture MEC manipulated the land claims process, putting forward “claims without merit” as a means to pressure Daniel and other landowners and to enable government officials, including those in the Land Claims Commission to gain access to land. Daniel has launched a civil claim against Mabuza claiming damages of more than R1 billion which is scheduled to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court in June 2021.

In other Restitution news

  • Fatima Moosa in the Daily Vox (07 December) writes about the social importance of the District Six museum as a defence against forgetting the impacts of forced removals.
  • Lucas Ledwaba reports on the troubled history of the Zebediela Citrus Estate in Limpopo, once the biggest citrus farm in Southern Africa and now on the brink of collapse. It is estimated R465-million in capital will be needed to redevelop the estate, but the question is whether this will be money well spent.
  • The North Coast Courier (26 December 2020) features the ongoing contestation between the descendants of John Dunn, a white hunter and businessman who was elevated to the status of a Zulu chief by King Cetshwayo and given custodianship of land in Mangete in the 1850s. Dunn is said to have married 49 Zulu women and fathered 117 children. When Dunn died in 1895 he left 4 000 hectares to his children, parcelled into 40 hectare plots. Dunn’s descendants obtained title deeds to this land in 1979. It is a complex story about history, identity, belonging and bitter disputes over access to land and is another example of the complexities integral to an understanding of land issues in South Africa and beyond.

Rural development

The ongoing financial woes of the Land Bank feature in rural development news. Dr John Purchase writing in Business Day (16 December 2020) cautioned that:

The summer season (2020/2021) has been hit by a financing crisis that will in all probability permanently change the financing environment of primary agriculture in SA.

Purchase notes that SA’s primary agricultural debt ballooned from R70bn in 2010 to R187.5bn in 2019, in nominal terms.

The four major commercial banks, together with the Land & Agricultural Bank of SA (Land Bank), hold just on 90% of that debt, with the Land Bank’s share alone amounting to 29%.


The Land Bank can now only provide about 50% of its commitments to its clients through its service-level agreements (SLAs) with several agribusinesses… Of greater concern is the ability of the Land Bank to raise further capital on the capital markets, as has been the practice over the past couple of decades. Investors are adamant that the government needs to provide a 100% guarantee on investments, while the Treasury is only offering a 60% guarantee.

The precarious position of the Land Bank and mounting concerns about its corporate governance are likely to impact heavily on the future viability of land reform.

Also on our rural development pages we feature news about the impacts of Covid 19 and the related levels of lockdown restriction on the wine industry. VINPRO has argued strongly on the economic impacts of lockdown on the wine industry, wine sector tourism, farmers and workers. Much of the news in the final few weeks of the years has focused on confusion over wine tasting and sales on wine farms – whether it is permitted or prevented.

As 2020 drew to a close President Ramaphosa took action to stem the second wave of coronavirus infections which saw 50,000 infections recorded since Christmas eve, together with the recent discovery of a more infectious Covid-19 variant. As the holiday season kicked in so did alcohol related trauma admissions in state hospitals, already struggling with the resurgence of the virus. Level 3 lockdown reinstituted the ban on alcohol sales.

A healthier way forward for alcohol in South Africa?

It is clear that once the Covid crisis is over South Africa needs a deep national introspection into the levels of alcohol abuse and the contribution alcohol makes to domestic violence, criminal assaults and road deaths. Nandi Siegfried & Charles Parry wrote a persuasive op-ed in Maverick Citizen (27 December 2020) on the collision between alcohol abuse and Covid-19.

Alcohol use, and especially heavy drinking, is causally related to trauma admissions. This relationship is undisputed by scientists worldwide. Availability, price and affordability of alcohol, as well as marketing practices have increasingly been shown to impact on drinking and associated harms.

This referenced an op-ed published earlier in the year (Parry, Gray, Maker and Smithers 27 July 2020) which proposed a 10 point plan for charting a healthier way forward for alcohol in South Africa.

  1. Reduce selling days to three per week, e.g. Monday to Wednesday or Tuesday to Thursday (9am-5pm).
  2. Limit quantities purchased per person at a particular outlet per day to make it harder to purchase for on-selling without a licence (perhaps the equivalent of 12 bottles, or 2 boxes, of 750ml wine or 12x330ml 6-pack beers or 4 bottles of 750ml spirits or 48x500ml cider), and the maximum quantities allowed to be sold should also be the maximum amounts allowed to be transported in a vehicle without a permit.
  3. Limit container sizes of beer and cider allowed for sale at this time to no more than 500ml, and wine and spirits to no more than 750ml.
  4. All sales should be subject to presentation of ID for age verification and quantity control.
  5. Diminish drink-driving by enforcing a maximum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for drivers of 0.02g alcohol/100ml of blood (or breath equivalent).
  6. Increase random breath testing of drivers.
  7. Mandatory testing for blood alcohol after serious motor vehicle collisions.
  8. Marketing of alcohol should be suspended immediately except at points of sale, with no “lifestyle” advertising and no special offers permitted.
  9. Alcohol deliveries must be effected only by drivers directly employed by licensed alcohol outlets to ensure that there can be consequences for violations in terms of selling, for example, to under-aged youth or to already intoxicated persons, and all deliveries must be subject to ID verification and take place only during the prevailing off-consumption alcohol outlet trading hours.
  10. Alcohol-related trauma should be made a notifiable condition at trauma units and mechanisms be set up to facilitate the use of biomarkers or validated clinical assessment tools.

Traditional Leadership

The Alliance for Rural Democracy & Land and Accountability Research Centre issued a joint statement on 3rd December expressing deep concern at the hurried passage of the Traditional Courts Bill.

On 2 December 2020, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) passed the Traditional Courts Bill [B1D-2017] (TCB) in a plenary session, after a rushed process that ignored significant concerns raised by numerous stakeholders.

The passage of the TCB follows on the heels of the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act 3 of 2019 (TKLA) that was signed into law by the President in November 2019. Although it has not commenced operation yet, this law will also have detrimental consequences for traditional communities. This Act removed almost all references to democracy, transparency and accountability that were contained in the traditional leadership legislation it will replace. In terms of section 24, traditional councils are able to enter into agreements and partnerships with third parties without the consent of directly affected individuals and communities. Consultation requirements in the Act are weak and do not include customary decision-making processes. The TCB could therefore provide traditional leaders and councils with an enforcement mechanism to further suppress democratic customary law processes in rural areas.


Together, these two pieces of legislation constitute an onslaught on rural democracy, the constitutional rights of rural citizens and resuscitate Bantustan geography.

The passage of these laws excpands the ANC playbook which seeks to keep traditional leadership sweet while creating an enabling environment for land and mining deals in the former bantustans for the benefit of an elite few.

Urban land

As usual our urban land pages are filled with numerous stories – too many of them to mention in detail here. We briefly select a few highlights from the past five weeks.

Perhaps the most significant story is about Minister Sisulu’s reported intention to end/downscale free housing and offer serviced sites instead. (Daily Maverick 23 November)

Government will still support development of medium and high-density developments, and existing contracts will be honoured. New housing projects are supposedly restricted to those benefitting child headed households, the elderly, disabled and military veterans.

Veteran housing activist Ronald Eglin from the Eastern Cape NGO Afesis Corplan writing in Maverick Citizen (8 December 2020) notes that:

This shift in the government’s human settlement policy is not unexpected. In the 2019 election manifesto of the ruling party, the ANC promised to “release land… for site and service to afford households the opportunity to build and own their own homes”, and to “accelerate the transfer of title deeds… as part of the rapid land-release programme that makes parcels of land available for those who want to build houses themselves.

However, Eglin cautions that this shift is not recorded in any formal housing policy document. He argues that:

The government needs to come out with a much clearer and comprehensive policy-change message. In the short term, the minister needs to make a more formal announcement informing provinces and municipalities on this proposed policy shift. This announcement needs to be accompanied by a comprehensive awareness-raising drive where it is explained why this shift has happened and how they expect municipalities and provinces to act going forward


In the medium term, the government needs to formally work to develop a new policy on rapid land release and translate this policy into programmes with associated budget allocations. Ideally, this new policy needs to be an outcome of a new human settlement policy.

Meanwhile housing activists and researchers Adi Kumar, Lauren Roysten and Michael Clark also express concern that a major policy shift is communicated through the media. They make the important point that:

It is not necessarily resource constraints that hamper housing delivery, but many of the underpinning financial instruments and their rigidity. For instance, if it takes an average of 11 years to implement a housing project, we can see no reason why the Rapid Land Release Programme will be exempt from the inefficacy of the underlying processes and instruments that have plagued housing delivery to date.

In the Western Cape GroundUp (26 November 2020) reports that 14 000 people are living on the streets of Cape Town.

Daily Maverick (16 December 2020) reports on a campaign spearheaded by Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City which advocates for the release of well-located state land owned by the Defence Force which could settle 67000 households.

Following a devasting fire in the informal settlement of Masiphumelele the Minister of Human Settlements pledges construction of 2800 home (EWN 21 December, 2020). This announcement follows shortly after the new policy direction mooted above – suggesting that there is yet to be much consistency in the government’s approach to housing policy.

Finally on 30 December the City came in for criticism for its decision to lease a site on New Market Street for parking as opposed to construction of social housing.

Selected land news from Southern, Central and Eastern Africa

There is a wide variety of news items covered on our Africa land news pages. We provide a quick scan below of the most recent additions.


The World Food Programme (23 December 2020) announces an agreement to support child nutrition for over one million children in Luanda province.


CIFOR (24 December 2020) reports that since 2012, DRC has been engaged in a land reform process to replace the land law currently in force, which dates from 1973. Eight years and many consultations later, however, there is still no consensus on key issues, and the proposed national land policy remains an unvalidated draft. At the heart of this debate is the lack of recognition of customary tenure. Marie-Bernard Dhedya, a Congolese lawyer and professor at the University of Kisangani argues that DRC needs a legal framework that formally incorporates customary tenure and promotes legal pluralism.


Radio France Internationale (26 December 2020) reports on a land struggle between Kakuzi PLC a a listed Kenyan agricultural company trading on both the Nairobi and London Stock Exchange engaging in the cultivation, processing and marketing of avocados, blueberries, macadamia, tea, livestock and commercial forestry and 10,000 ‘squatters’ who are laying claim to the land the farm sits on.


Foodtank reports on a new agreement between Lesotho and IFAD to stimulate the rural economy and boost sustainable agriculture.

New Frame features a review of This is not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection  a film set amongst migrant worker communities in Lesotho which also face displacement due to dam building.  The film makes history as the country’s first official submission to the Best International Feature Film category at the upcoming Oscars

On the surface, This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection deals with loss, grief, identity and the resolve to fight for what is right, while simultaneously presenting a sharp critique of colonialism, modernity, corruption and bureaucracy.


On 28 December 2020 Mongabay reports on exploratory drilling for oil in Northern Namibia in the Namibian portion of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). Recon Africa is the holder of a licence to explore a 2.5 million hectare area (6.3-million-acres) of northeastern Namibia. In a related story UNESCO was reported to be vigilant on the impacts of oil exploration on World Heritage properties.

The Namibian (17 December 2020) reports that President Geingob ignored questions regarding a report meant to direct the government on how to address the claims of ancestral land in Namibia. The report published by the commission of inquiry into the claims of ancestral land for restitution was submitted to the President’s Office in July this year.

Sonja Smith writing Daily Maverick (14 December 2020) provides a sobering exposé of the conditions of farm workers in Namibian vineyards in Aussenkehr located about 50 kilometres from the Noordoewer border post that separates Namibia from neighbouring South Africa.


In Rwanda New Times (24 December) reports that there has been an increase in property tax which is more than three times what people were supposed to pay before. The article provides details on how the property tax is levied as well as penalties for non-payment.


In Uganda the Monitor (29 December 2020) reports on a new a campaign that is aimed at advocating for land rights where women are allowed to own land to improve their livelihoods. While Article 237(1) of the Constitution clearly states that land belongs to citizens of Uganda and Article 21 prohibits discrimination based on gender, these rights still remain to be realised in practice.


The Zimabweland blog continues to provide a rich resource on land related issues. On 7 December the blog reviews a new report from the International Land Coalition and Oxfam called ‘Uneven Ground: Land Inequality at the Heart of Unequal Societies’, along with 17 supporting papers. Through new analysis it shows that land inequality is even larger than previously thought, and that this has dramatic effects on poor people’s livelihoods, particularly those of women and young people.


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