Over the past 24 years, the Gauteng government has built 1.2 million homes across the province. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
South Africa is a country of great exclusions, precisely because the hopes and dreams embodied in our Constitution still have to be realised. Our current land reform programme has not transferred much land to black South Africans, even though the government housing delivery initiative has been markedly more successful, giving more than 4million people decent houses to which they will have full title.

Far too many more South Africans, though, don’t have property. They are famished with land hunger. They speak loudly of their visceral need to get land to build their own homes, to use land for farming or industrial production to pursue that promised better life on their own, without government handouts. There is only one question that should concern us: How are we still living in a country where so many people remain landless?

How do we break the colonial legacy of racial and gender inequality and create the nation envisaged in our Constitution?

The land question has been central to the conflict between black and white South Africans for the past four centuries. If we want to settle this historical conflict and build a more inclusive and equitable society, we need to use land redistribution, not land restitution as we have tried - and failed - for the last 24 years.

The introduction of the rapid land release programme is not about taking land from whites and giving it to blacks; it’s about addressing the urban land hunger of millions of Gauteng residents. Over the past 24 years, the Gauteng government has built more than 1.2million houses and every Friday we are handing over between 1000 and 2000 title deeds to the owners of these houses. We will continue to build houses for the poor and most vulnerable citizens. However, more people have come forward to say the government should allocate them serviced stands so that they can build their own homes.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency/ANA

In meetings throughout the province, more people have pointed out that the cost of urban land is prohibitive - due to speculative activity - for them to be able to build themselves.

Those who have savings will easily be able to build their own houses if they have access to land.

But land needs to be released for other uses, too, such as agriculture and industrial development. At a recent summit, a group of women told me how they were producing vegetables. They said: “Premier, if we were to be given more land we could do more because we are feeding our children. We could look after our families and not trouble the government by wanting to be on the state grant.”

Others have told me how, if they could get land, they could build factories in the townships, grow their business and create jobs.

The rapid land release programme starts with the land that the government owns. We received a report on June 13 consolidating all the provincial and nationally held land in Gauteng. Our municipalities have also been captivated by this programme, regardless of their party affiliation, because they know that people are tired of waiting.

The land redistribution programme must also be done within the Gauteng Spatial Development Framework, where we decide what we want to do and where, whether it is building houses or factories, preserving ecologically sensitive areas, creating green spaces or even making room for urban agriculture.

The fact that people want to build their own homes might release us from the obligation of building them, but we must still supply bulk infrastructure such as sanitation, water and electricity, even roads. We do not want to informalise development or human settlement. There will be proper planning for bulk infrastructure on the land that is earmarked for allocation and rapid release.

This rapid land release programme is about empowering all our people, creating wealth for the people. It’s about disrupting the existing and embedded racial patterns of ownership. We want to create a country where citizens have livelihoods independent of the state, which is why I can never support the principle of state ownership, with the state arbitrarily deciding which individual to give land to - or take it away.

I believe that once someone owns a piece of land, with a title deed, they have an asset. It places them on a very different footing. We should have no single adult citizen landless in this country - because the land belongs to all who work it and need it. This is why the rapid land release programme is so powerful. It’s a movement to empower the next generation of South Africans and create an asset base for all.

Given the weight of legal arguments that support the idea that we can expropriate land without compensation using the current Constitution, the Gauteng government is proceeding to test the limits or otherwise of the Constitution. We will start with the release of publicly owned land and proceed to identify and expropriate without compensation privately owned land well located for human settlements, urban agriculture and industrial development - abandoned or left vacant by property speculators.

Our transformation must happen through constitutional means because we are a constitutional democracy. Going ahead with expropriation without compensation before the parliamentary review process is not “jumping the gun”, as alleged by Solidarity. We want to test whether expropriation without compensation can be done under the current Constitution, as argued by some of our country’s legal minds such as Justice Dikgang Moseneke. If the Constitution, as it stands, cannot allow it, it has to be amended through the proper process.

Our freedom will be incomplete as long as two-thirds of the population have no means to obtain an asset such as land to support their livelihood. Our democracy will be meaningless without socio-economic inclusion. If we don’t change this, we are sitting with a recipe for disaster for all.

It doesn’t matter how good someone’s heart is. If black and white live side-by-side and one owns property and the other doesn’t, this will be a source of eternal tension. If we don’t resolve the issue, our children will be in permanent conflict and our grandchildren after them. We will never build an inclusive nation underpinned by equality and unity in diversity.

This land belongs to us all! Let’s share the land!

* David Makhura is the premier of Gauteng.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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