Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, who is regarded as an expert on land issues, said municipalities and other spheres of government had had the right to expropriate land for years but had not been using it.
“They have no excuse not to exercise their power and authority that is provided by the legal framework which should be used to create additional land in the urban areas,” Ngcukaitobi said.
His comments come in the wake of a fresh wave of land occupations in Gugulethu, Philippi and Manenberg over the last few weeks which led to confrontations between residents and authorities.
Some residents who claimed they had lived as backyarders moved on private and City of Cape Town-owned land that was vacant for years.
Ngcukaitobi said the land occupations were indicative of a growing hunger for land and housing in urban areas as more people were moving from rural areas which had been left in squalor due to apartheid laws such as the Native Land and Group Areas Acts.
“These laws created unproductive farmlands in the rural areas and many people are migrating to cities and this has created pressure for housing. Municipalities will have to come up with expansive land reform strategies to meet the demand in an equitable manner,” he added.
Ngcukaitobi said the constitution did not prescribe compensation for land expropriation but municipalities should start discussions with private land owners to make land available.
“Private owners increase prices once they know that the land is earmarked for redistribution and this has also hampered the process. But municipalities have to understand the legal framework,” he added.
In an attempt to defuse the situation in Gugulethu, mayor Patricia de Lille met separately with the residents who had occupied the land, as well as with private land owners.
One land owner apparently told De Lille that the land was earmarked for development of rental units and would proceed with a court interdict against the land occupation.
“The City cannot take further action on this matter due to the litigation,” spokesperson Xolani Koyana said.
But he said discussions with other land owners would continue. Koyana said the community was briefed about various housing projects in Gugulethu that were in the pipeline.
However, a process of registration and verification of backyarders would be undertaken to verify against the waiting list.
The City added it was “continously” assessing land it owned for housing projects ranging from transitional, affordable, or social housing, or state-subsidised Breaking New Ground (BNG) housing.
Mayoral committee member for urban development Brett Herron said there were many opportunities for affordable housing in many areas across the metro.
“Providing affordable housing opportunities closer to where people work or close to public transport is non-negotiable. Where needed, we do acquire land from private land owners for housing purposes, and where development patterns so require. The location of the land, the suitability for development, and the costs of acquiring the land are important considerations. Some acquisitions are under way in areas across Cape Town,” he added.
However, Herron said availability and acquisition of land was not necessarily the biggest obstacle to the provision of housing.
“In many respects we have a funding deficit more than an available land deficit.
“The housing deficit in Cape Town, and in other parts of South Africa, is one of our biggest challenges.
“We estimate that in Cape Town alone up to 650000 families will qualify for and require some form of state-subsidised housing over the next 20 years.
"This is a massive challenge,” Herron said.
While urbanisation and demand for housing is rising, and construction costs have been increasing, the housing subsidy has not kept pace. "What we are seeing nationally is a diminishing number of housing opportunities being delivered year-on-year."
Another city official would not disclose how much land was available for housing saying such information would compromise it.
“The City is accountable and responsible for the security of its asset base and disseminating such information may have a financial and legal impact,” said Stuart Diamond, the City’s mayoral committee member for assets and facilities management.