The Upgrading or Land Tenure Rights Act (ULTRA) is arguably democratic South Africa’s most important law. Yet virtually no one knows about it. A proposed amendment is currently before Parliament but only one aspect has enjoyed attention: the removal of gender discrimination.
Essential thought that is, by far the most important aspect, which few have noticed, is it proposes what might be the biggest land dispossession in history. Victims will be almost exclusively millions of poor black South Africans. They will be placed right back where Verwoerd had them – wards of government under the whimsical discretion of officialdom.
Essentially ULTRA provides that black people on formal land during and since apartheid own their homes and must get title deeds. They have, or should be recognised as having, full freely tradable title. ULTRA should have transformed the lives of most South Africans, especially the poorest victims of apartheid, and caused more transformation and empowerment than any other measure. Yet it has not.
ULTRA has been ignored except by the FMF’s Khaya Lam Land Reform Project which has been helping homeowners, mostly elderly black women, exercise their right to title deeds.
Clause 1 of the Amendment Bill intends to change the automatic conversion of land tenure rights into ownership, into an application for conversion. This would give the Minister the right to affirm or deny ownership. Such extreme discretionary power has no place in a free and democratic society.
Millions of people could lose their homes. The Bill proposes a gigantic act of expropriation without compensation from the poorest and the most vulnerable – people deprived of resources with which to defend themselves.
Had ULTRA been implemented as intended, there would be thriving land markets in predominantly ‘black’ areas with more black land-owning households than the entire white population. A trillion rand of dead capital would have been liberated into the hands of newly empowered and enriched families, and, through them, into the economy. Millions of destitute people would have been enriched and bankable.
ULTRA confers full and clean title, with none of the demeaning and dehumanising restrictions inherited from apartheid or imposed since as RDP pre-emptive clauses.
According to the FMF, reversion, as the Bill envisages, of ULTRA ownership back to the state would be one of the greatest deprivations in history.
The Bill could force occupiers of future land to apply for ownership, but should never be considered for previously liberated land. Retroactive deprivation would be a manifestly unjust, racist, unconscionable and unlawful travesty. It should be scrapped.
Regarding future land allocations, it is time for the government to abandon the patronising apartheid era notion that black people should not enjoy full land rights. The poor should never be forced to beg for what is rightfully theirs.
If the ‘land question’ is taken seriously by government it would enhance and extend land rights for the poor, not obliterate them.
The FMF unequivocally supports gender equality. It implores the government to eliminate gender discrimination and implement land empowerment and transformation in terms of ULTRA.