Fighting for land security in Southern Africa

Fighting for land security in Southern Africa

It has emerged quite clearly from Urban LandMark’s work in South Africa – and increasingly in the region – that the emergence of more sophisticated property markets has taken place locally and in most larger cities in the region. While there might be a need to assist these markets to develop further, in particular the need to build market institutions and professions, these groupings tend to increase their own capacities as the markets develop, mostly with little assistance.

In the Southern Africa region, something more fundamental is needed. Most poor people, the majority in most cities and towns, do not have a legalised pathway to accessing land. They also do not have an administratively and legally supported way of holding onto land once they have accessed it – usually extra-legally, or in areas just beyond urban boundaries where land law becomes quasi- or fully customary. And nor do they have any way of then trading legally in property or use rights. As a result, many people occupy land or inadequate shelter illegally and are then constantly vulnerable to eviction, have little access to basic services, and are not part of the planning process of cities.

This study finds that entrenched urban poverty is as much a symptom of weak access to land and property as it is a cause. Therefore, upgrading settlements and incremental movement towards secure tenure for families living in poverty is a crucial part of building resilient livelihoods and communities in southern Africa. Markets are part of the picture if more fundamental inclusion of the poor into the urban economy is to be addressed, because it is about competition for valuable space and about (sustainable) participation in growing urban economies.

The paper observes that the issue of climate change is real stressin that where rapidly growing cities meet the effects of climate change, the future may well be bleak, especially if cities and towns in sub-Saharan Africa continue to be characterised by poverty, inequality and
weak institutions.

The author argues that if access to land, how land is held and how land is traded are not clearly defined (whether for residential or business purposes), one of the key building blocks for sustainable poverty alleviation and economic growth is missing. Similar to the argument for food security, land security is fundamental to development in the region. In order to achieve this, the paper concludes by recommending that comprehensive urban poverty strategies need to be linked to city development strategies.

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