Women must not be forgotten in land debate, we too want land

By Commissioner Nthabiseng Moleko.

The South African economy over the last two decades has not structurally transformed, economic growth is sluggish and redistribution has occurred largely through public sector cash transfers reaching over 17 million beneficiaries, and not due to economic transformation.  With more than 5.5 million unemployed South Africans, South Africa remains the worlds most unequal society. It is further matched with frighteningly high levels of poverty and labour market exclusion.  The history of discrimination is prevalent in the economy with lack of access and exclusion largely predominant in Africans, women and people with disabilities in the population.  This worsens for those living in rural versus urban areas, with poverty and lack of opportunity prevalent for women living in the rural areas.  The question of land and access to ownership becomes an important imperative with regards to the distribution of wealth and income, land is recognised as a source of not only power and social status, but of wealth generation.

A woman’s ability to own, inherit and control land and property is vital for her ability to access resources and participate in the economy. In many countries, including South Africa the Constitution and international obligations promise equal protection and equality with regards to accessing economic benefits.  The reality is that laws and practices continue to constrain women’s rights, discriminatory practises continue with the horrific levels of gender based violence against women an indication of the value placed on women in our society. In South Africa many women do not have legal ownership rights to land on which they live and work because they are dependent on spouses and land ownership patterns through relatives due to the plural legal system and customary law. 

The constitution as well as international instruments ratified by the Sate provides for impressive property rights, but the formal rights enshrined in a plethora of legislative developments has not translated into substantive property rights for the majority of South Africans. The latest Land Audit (2017) reflects land ownership trends in South Africa which is shows Africans who constitute 79% of the population but as individuals directly own 1,2% of the rural land.  The Land audit also reveals that whites own 72% of total farm and agricultural holdings, Coloured at 15%, Indians at 5% and Africans at 4%. Females own only 13% percent of farms and agricultural land, males at 71%. The same Land Audit (2017) shows Erven ownership is also disproportionately owned by males.  

In terms of the above the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) believes that the land ownership pattern is still reflective of the disproportionate and oppressive economic conditions which prevailed during the pre-democratic

era, and must be completely revised. In this regard it is not only the inequitable land ownership that must be addressed but also the existence of

discriminatory gender practices and policies which continue to provide powerful barriers which marginalise most women from land ownership.

The colonial history of South Africa’s rural economy provides a background as to why land reform is both a legitimate as well as a necessary imperative in post -apartheid South Africa – in order to undo the racially and gender based land ownership which has evolved. However, the manner in which the land ownership imbalances are to be addressed will require a careful analysis of existing land ownership patterns, the pricing mechanisms that operate in land acquisition, cost structures inclusive of formalities that are required to acquire land and the legislative framework that exists in order to perpetuate the skewed land ownership pattern in South Africa.

The CGE believes that land and property access must enable women, youth and people with disabilities to be integrated and included in the development of a less fragmented and divided South Africa. The resolution of the 54th ANC National Conference in December 2017 that proposed a constitutional amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution must incorporate and ensure the implementation of this programme also takes a gendered perspective into account. Policies, reforms and proposals within National and provincial departments have shown failure to ensure vulnerable groups such as women, youth, people living disabilities and child headed households are beneficiaries of the departmental programmes of economic transformation.

Women participation in food production is high, particularly in subsistence farming.  Statistics are not readily available however the right to access land is regulated by customary law or land tenureship systems that do not promote equal access to land for women. Thus there is little correlation to reaping the returns of such production. Furthermore, women’s access to land is also limited due to discriminatory power structures that are a norm and standard in communities and households, in particular rural communities that do not promote the rights of land access and ownership of women. The Department of Women’s Status on Women in the South African economy provided impetus to the argument that land ownership enables agricultural productivity and promotes food security. Amongst the various programmes in government, none have identified women as a core target. The Land Redistribution Programme, The Land Tenure Reform Programme, The Land Restitution Programme have all never considered placing emphasis on gender equality.  It is no surprise when the distribution programmes are heavily skewed to give men access to land in greater levels than women.  We as the CGE therefore propose that in the alteration and consideration of the amendment that redistribution, reform and restitution programmes have a gender focus. 

Women allocation of land need to be supplemented with resources that enable productive output, thus economic resources such as access to credit, implements, ownership and control of the land and supporting technology must be considered in liaison with the reforms in they are to yield positive outcomes. The general well-being of households is linked to women, which is closely aligned to their economic participation. Their access to income affects household access to health care, education and sanitation amongst others. Women must be given the right to receive not only education, but also assets and economic resources that will liberate them from poverty and enable them to be economic active participants in society.

Structural conditions that improve women economic participation in the economy require focus, parallel to improved ownership and access to land. Factors such as access to banking facilities in RSA by women. Women who live in rural areas do not have access to mainstream banking facilities, alternative finance models and development finance mechanisms must be supported and encouraged. Women cannot be left on the sidelines any longer, this discussion of land redistribution should include every woman and girl child, allowing them access to ownership of land and property. That is true empowerment.