South Africa’s history of land dispossession by both the colonial and apartheid regimes has left the vast majority of South Africans either landless or with insecure tenure to the land or housing they possess. The South African Constitution sought to radically transform this position and society itself through land reform that took shape thus: restitution of land dispossession after 1913, the equitable redistribution of all land and resources, and, finally, to ensure the security of tenure for all South Africans.
Regrettably, such transformation has come at a painfully slow pace for various reasons such as the absent and ill-defined policies, a lack of political will, and inadequate state capacity that has spanned successive cabinets. The failure to resolve this issue speaks not only to the structural issues facing South Africa but also to the increasingly urgent challenge of redressing historical injustices. This failure compounded by rampant corruption and state maladministration has decimated land-reform budgets and prioritized elite capture and disingenuous land claims. The prevailing reality is that most of the population – especially poor and lower-income black South Africans and women in particular – continue to be denied access to the right to security of tenure, equitable access to land and housing, as well as equality and dignity.
Our work on land matters will use strategic litigation, research, and law reform to effect change on how landless people can access land and how those with access to land can secure their rights to access. The LRC land programme draws from years of LRC experience resisting forced removals and, since 1994, assisting client communities to successfully claim back dispossessed land, insisting on due process in post-settlement support, securing land-based livelihoods for landless people, asserting the constitutional protection of customary and other forms of property rights previously disregarded by a legal system that recognized common-law ownership exclusively and pursuing relief for vulnerable communities’ rights to land associated benefits such as fishing and water.
We understand that the rural land injustice in South Africa mirrors urban land injustices. This is illustrated through the large proportion of poor and low-income people in South Africa who live in informal settlements on the periphery of major cities, compounded by a lack of access to basic amenities, including sanitation and clean water. This lack of development renders the lives and welfare of vulnerable groups such as young children, women, and people with disabilities at risk. The threats to tenure security in the urban landscape imperil redress of the legacy of forced removals by the Group Areas Act and is experienced today by unequal access to amenities, poorly built homes with questionable infrastructural development, poor implementation of housing policies, and glaring spatial injustices. Our housing work has historically set significant precedents in developing protections for the urbanized and it is against this background that the LRC strives for both rural and urban land justice.
The LRC supports communities in choosing their own development paths. We thus seek to promote communities affected by development as central to decision-making and whether the community chooses to enter partnerships towards development or not, we support communities to develop strong, democratic, transparent, and accountable communal property structures. The LRC aims to further transparency and accountability not only in government and business but also in traditional councils to secure the rights of South Africans living under the authority of traditional leaders.
The LRC works to use the law, in particular constitutional and customary law, to support democratic practices and institutions in land reform to ensure that land is restored to communities prejudiced by unjust and discriminatory colonial and apartheid-induced laws and practices.