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The High Level Panel (HLP) hosted a roundtable discussion at Parliament on spatial inequality in South Africa. This comprised experts in this field to determine gaps in legislation in how to address that. In his opening remarks, the Chairperson of the panel, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe, explained that the roundtable discussion sought to find ways to remedy the spatial inequalities that still beset our country. “We have invited experts to analyse and help us to determine how this can be addressed through legislation and what are policy or legislative gaps that exist, that can address this challenge,” he said.  

The Chairperson of the Land Cluster in the HLP, Dr Aninka Claassens, said the intent of this session was to get recommendations that would help to realign the institutional arrangements and forms of tenure and oversight that can ensure that people can be accorded rights to land as a means to address existing spatial inequalities in the country.

Speaking on topic: “Reducing Spatial Inequalities with Better Regulation”, Prof Ivan Turok said policies that are disjointed and unresponsive to the realities on the ground, are to be blamed. “The stark reality is that we need specific legislation and policies that will address the stark spatial specificities that underpin historical spatial inequalities,” he said.

The key point to make is that we need a systemic view that will address a complex integrated system that no single magic bullet can solve, he said. “When it comes to land, things are connected to housing, economy and people’s rights to urban housing. Currently, we have a particular legislation that is not integrated and will never work,” he said.

Contradictions in policies and regulation and lack of their harmonisation exacerbate this, he said. “The National Land Framework and redistribution of land must be looked at as a means to an end. This relates well with the United Nation’s Habitat’s adoption of a new urban agenda which identifies cities as areas that can promote sustainable development goals.”

Today’s reality is that cities are critical for the prosperity of their respective countries, he said. “In cities we need to coordinate public housing, economic opportunities as a new urban agenda. We are falling short of this because of our legacy.”  

But the zoning of cities as economic hubs is hampered by the fact that their policy directives lie in different spheres and are determined by various government departments – not the cities themselves, he said. “For instance, integrated transport is fundamental for cities to develop, but that remains a national competence and cities can do nothing about it. In the short-term we need to get these institutions to cooperate. And to ensure that inter-governmental relations get our cities working together.”

This could deal with the current spatial mismatch in land legislation and policy, he said. “When it comes to spatial inequalities, we are the worst in the world with regard to where people work and where they live. The congestion is a cost to the economy and that relates to the physical separation of people from productive activity. The poverty trap of informal settlements in this country is the most extreme in the world,” he said.

A representative of the Southern African Social Policy Research Institute, Dr Wanga Zembe, emphasised that spatial inequality is rife in the former homelands.

“The Eastern Cape is the most deprived province in the country and the Western Cape the least deprived in relation to rural spatial inequality. Deprivation is mostly concentrated in the former homelands, and the most affected is the former Transkei in particular,” said Dr Zembe.

Sifuna Ukwazi, a land rights non-governmental organisation, which colloquially means “we want to know”, presented the City of Cape Town’s spatial inequalities as a case study. Its representative, Ms Hopolang Selebalo, claimed that the state has enforced this phenomenon by building houses for the previously disadvantaged in far-flung areas. “There is not a single housing unit that has been built in the city since 1994. This has entrenched the past spatial patterns,” she said.

“As such, very little has changed ever since. What we see instead is the systematic removal of the previously disadvantaged far away from the city through gentrification. Inner-city pockets such as Woodstock and Salt River are cases in point. In these areas the working class is being pushed out from places in which they have lived for decades to create space for gentrification,” she said.

What also contributes to this is that most government land has not been transferred to the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality, she said. “The City’s argument is that there is lack of available land for housing development in the city centre. Often the City claims that it has identified suitable land elsewhere for housing development but that land has not yet been transferred to it (the City) by government or parastatal organisations,” she said.

“But the opposite can also be said that the City views land as a means of making profit,” said another representative of Sifuna Ukwazi, Ms Mandisa Shandu. “The City views land a form of capital injection than to address the spatial inequalities that are so glaring in the City of Cape Town.

“Also, the government has a huge property portfolio which has not been made transparent to the people. People want to know where is the land? What are the plans for it? Currently, there are no norms and standards to identify strategic land for purposes of public access. As a result, the confidentiality of where the land is has discouraged public participation in this regard. Most of those who want access to land have no information and knowledge of where the land is. This has discouraged an informed public participation in this regard,” she said.

The private sector also has a role in addressing this matter, she said “The private sector has a role to play because the government cannot shoulder this on its own. What we see now is the reproduction of apartheid cities. To address that, the government needs to curb the over-commodification of cities by the private sector,” she said.

“Our organisation has conducted a study on how the exclusionary forms and models of housing have led to other forms of housing developments that are opportunistic, and which have created a new property market,” said the representative of the Development Action Group, Mr Adi Kumar.

“There is a new spatial model emerging that turns RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses in the townships into residential properties – and this has led to a high real estate market that caters for the influx of young people into the city, and is financed by taxi owners. This is a market that was not exploited in the City’s development plan,” he said.

By Abel Mputing

29 June 2017