The Urban Land Paper Series: Volume 1

In July 2014, Sbu Zikode of Abahlali baseMjondolo delivered a damning indictment against the post-apartheid government that gave insight to the experiences and reality of many poor urban dwellers. He pointed out that, after two decades of being ‘free’, freedom remained a dream for those in cities without access to land and its benefit . He highlighted the frustration and exclusion felt by people who continue to struggle on a daily basis for access to shelter, services and the benefits of the city. The overwhelming sentiment expressed was that government does not seem to be interested in the plight of poor urban dwellers who are evicted and persecuted. The Natives Land Act (No. 27 of 1903) effectively prohibited black people from owning land in South Africa, limiting them to 7% of the land on reserves. The effect was crippling for people whose livelihoods depended on land for farming and cattle, and whose culture and society were associated with land. The effects of this dispossession can be felt today, visible in the words of Zikode and among those who struggle to access land and shelter in South Africa. In removing black people’s right to own land, the Natives Land Act essentially ripped out the soul of the nation. Therefore, a transformation agenda cannot be complete without reclaiming and restoring the dignity, identity and legitimacy of black Africans, which is intimately connected to the land agenda. These and other reasons make the land issue highly emotive in South Africa, where it is tied up in the history of dispossession and oppression. A small elite continues to own land, although the extent of this ownership is not clear. Government owns huge portions of land, which is often used inefficiently, despite the great need (and demand) for land to be used for shelter, economic activity, infrastructure development etc.


This land series explores the debates and processes related to land in South African cities. Ultimately, it provides a deeper insight for government as a whole, and local government in particular, in order to enable a restorative, just, equitable and sustainable developmental outcome.