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​​Keynote Address to The Women, Youth and Land Reform Dialogue by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, MP, Minister in The Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.

Land Our Heritage

Birchwood Hotel

19 September 2018

Programme Director;

Excellency Minister for Rural Development and Land Reform, Ms Maite Nkoane-Mashabane;

Deputy Minister for Land Reform, Mr Mcebisi Skwatsha;

Ladies and Gentlemen.


Thank you very much for extending an invitation to us to reflect on the land question, which remains one of the greatest challenges confronting our post-apartheid state.  It is also important that you choose to undertake this reflective exercise with a specific bias towards youth and women.  A reflection with the youth is always inspiring since the young often dare to dream the impossible.  The inclusion of women provides an important foundation to those inspirations -- a development in the absence of women is bound to be hollow.


It is correct to choose to undertake this reflection during heritage month, for the land is heritage.  Land has also been at the centre of centuries of our struggle for liberation.  The formation of many of our liberation movements, including ours, was predicated on the land question.  In virtually every African activity the soil and the land play a central part.  Indeed, for Africans the land carries with it a deep spiritual connection and is a culturally significant resource for economic advancement and human development.  Everything for us starts and ends with the land.  The land is the main source of food, water and air which keeps all the animals and plants.  It is therefore our long held view that a dignified and meaningful life is not possible without access and connection to mother earth.  When we die we return to the earth, whilst our souls go elsewhere.


It is a travesty that despite mounting a land reform strategy and policy in 1994, only close to 7% of the land has been successfully moved to the black majority through the land reform processes.  The picture still remains largely the same with 90% of land in private hands through companies, trust and individuals.  White land owners own 72% of all farming land with Africans owning only 4%.  This is in contrast to the picture on the rest of the continent wherein 90% of the land is either traditionally or communally owned.[1]  In South Africa only 14% of the land can be deemed State land with the tribal authorities only commanding about 2% of the land.  Women own only 13% of the land in private hands.


Ladies and Gentlemen.  For as long as the land question evades us, hunger, poverty and inequality will continue to thrive amongst us.  The current land reform processes which largely rely on a willing buyer and willing seller as well as a reluctant financial sector are not adequate to free our people from the yoke of want and landlessness.  We must learn from other nations elsewhere whilst factoring in our own realities.


Our reality is that we are a country that is rapidly urbanising with about 64% of our population residing in urban South Africa.[2]  In the African context, this figure does not necessarily reflect our realities wherein a sizeable amount of us live in both the rural and urban areas.  One may say we have a 'dual urban/rural citizenship'.

We must therefore mount a two pronged strategy which should enable our people to have a dignified urban life whilst also having vibrant rural economies.  Both of which will require access to land. 


According to the Housing Development Agency, 16% of Africans live in informal settlements or are backyard dwellers.[3].  The calls for securing title deeds is a step in the right direction.  However, even this is unlikely to make a significant change to the skewed patterns of ownership.  To reverse this pattern we must promote the livelihoods of our people by facilitating for integrated human settlements.


Learning from the women of Mahila Milan in India, the women of the Federation for the Urban Poor (FEDUP) have acquired land and built houses for themselves by saving as little as 1 Rand a day.  These women who have over 1 500 savings schemes throughout the country also have a bridging fund with over R80million.  Some of the women have replicated this model here in South Africa.  Through self upliftment they have constructed their own family, communal and commercial spaces with their bare hands thus transforming the urban landscape in the areas that they live in. 


Their progress has not been without difficulty. 


First and foremost the fact that they are the asset and land owners in their families is an ongoing gender relations struggle.  We must ensure that women are also registered as co-owners in the land and properties they reside in, with their partners.


Secondly, the financial sector continues to be reluctant to support the construction ventures of these women, opting to instead favour the current contractor and tender based model.


Thirdly, in trying to individually access their land rights, the women of FEDUP met with major resistance from local and traditional authorities as well as their own family members.  Like the African women who gathered on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in October 2016, they were quick to realise that their struggle requires agency and organisation.  Through the Arusha Charter for Actualising Women's Lands Rights in Africa they have established a continent wide Women's Land Rights Movement with supporting agencies, and have demanded that:

  • All investments be undertaken in environmentally sensitive ways and in partnership with communities having at least 40% of the share of profits;

  • Laws should be enacted to provide security and protection of women's land rights; and

  • Governments should avoid land based investments which forcefully displace rural communities, particularly women and children.



More has to be done to recognise and support community driven land development programmes and initiatives.  Mainstream financing models have to be transformed so that the financing sector recognises and supports women and youth led initiatives.  We must also transform the finance sector so that they desist from further impoverishing our people by repossessing the houses in which they occupy and selling them for a song. 


We must find mechanisms by which we can protect our people and provide them with land for their development. To this end, an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform was recently appointed by the President, and is chaired by the Deputy President.  Guiding principles for the accelerated land reform process is that it needs to support the overall objectives of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality and unemployment.  We hope that this engagement will assist us to move towards a fairer distribution of our land resources, not just based on race, but also centrally based on gender considerations. 


Ladies and gentlemen.  In a rural context, farm evictions are at the centre of the further dispossession and impoverishment of our people.  The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform records that about 2 million farm workers or dwellers have been evicted over the past ten years.  About 77% of these were women and children. 


Consequently, when we implement our agreed upon policy of land expropriation without compensation we ought to prioritise such farm dwellers, workers and evictees.


This situation is untenable and the continuous denial of land rights to a vast majority of South Africans serves as a time bomb.  If we do not arrive at a credible and equitable solution, we all stand to lose as the patience of our people, especially the youth is slowly wearing out.  We must urgently address their calls for action in so far as the radical transformation of the economy and the patterns of ownership are concerned.


Already many of the existing farming organisation and business people such as businessman and Inyathelo Awards Winner Francois van Niekerk are taking full recognition of this fact.  Through the Mergon Foundation he has distributed 30% shares of his businesses to beneficiary workers and communities.  Today those shares are worth over R1.2 billion and these have been cardinal to the growth of his businesses.  He carries with him a simple philosophy, he says “I have seen that if you feed the stream of life and not your dam, the stream of life will increase and you will always have more than you need.  Feeding your own dam does not fulfil you"


Programme Director.  Agriculture will remain an important sector into the foreseeable future, since humans despite technological advancement are in no position to replace food.  South Africa ranks amongst one of the major agricultural produce exporters, despite the economic down turn and the fact that only 12.4% of our land surface having high agriculture capability.  South Africa is also blessed with an abundance of sun as well as all the seven climatic zones which allows for production distribution throughout the country, thus facilitating for product diversity from crop production to game farming. 


The challenges we must begin to address is the extent by which we process our produce so that we may export more processed products which will add jobs and value.


We must also pay attention to manufacturing some of the inputs to the sector from fertilizer to tractors or tillers.  This will require that we innovate and introduce technological advancements in the sector, so that we may improve production and potentially attract young people to the sector.


It is therefore critical that we implement our skills revolution with an emphasis on the STEM areas whilst also promoting other skill areas that can support our agriculture and manufacturing sectors.  These must be complemented by effective extension services which will support the rural farmers.  Such support must also venture into supporting our communities with the means of production including implements whilst also promoting e-Connectivity, so that the communities can have easier access to markets and technologies to manage their production.  The internet of things[4], the world-wide-web, and social media applications have an abundance of much needed information to support the development of our people.  Our people cannot afford to be left behind in the fourth industrial revolution. 



Programme Director.  Our land also extends into the oceans and seas.  South Africa is surrounded by waters and some strategic and largely unknown islands.  Up to now we have not fully mapped these surrounding areas, and the more we do so, the more we are seeing the resource and tourism potential.  The oceans resource mapping reveals the environmental, economic, and social development potential of these areas.  The sad reality is that contestations and conversations about these areas have largely excluded women and young people.  We must secure ocean usage rights for our people, so that they too can secure their own development. 


Ladies and gentlemen. It has often been said that the measure of a society is on how it treats the most vulnerable.  Without land, our people will continue to be vulnerable and will be unable to lift themselves out of poverty and inequality.  We must therefore urgently address the land question, which is at the heart of our struggle for economic emancipation.


Youth unemployment is just over 53.7% and a significant majority of these young people do not have matriculation and/or marketable skills and experiences.  We must therefore do more to expose our youth to education and training opportunities.  These must be complemented by an Information, Communication and Technology strategy which will ensure ease of access to ICT.  Such a strategy ought to ensure cheaper data prices and free access to WIFI in places of learning and shared community spaces.  To facilitate for this the private sector is called upon to act with urgency.



Ladies and Gentlemen, Our next phase of development requires of us to address the land question so that we may restore the dignity of our people.  In addressing this we will be in a better position to address the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, as well as the skewed societal gender relations and spatial inequality.  In the end we must “be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face" as once said by Steve Biko.


Programme Director, Allow me to conclude by wishing this dialogue fruitful deliberations.  Let us use this opportunity and platform to bestow a more human face to South Africa and Africa.  Let us use this opportunity to provide an actionable foundation to the calls of the African Women whom I have mentioned, who gathered on the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro to assert land rights for women and the marginalised.  Let us use this opportunity to echo and assert their calls that “our land is our life".




[1] United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Securing Land Tenure and Access for the Youth to Modernize African Agriculture, 2017

[2] Stats South Africa, Mid-Year Population Estimates, July 2018

[3] Housing Development Agency, Informal Settlements Status Report, 2014

[4] The internet of things (IoT) is a computing concept that describes the idea of everyday physical objects being connected to the internet and being able to identify themselves to other devices.  IoT describes a world where just about anything can be connected and communicate in an intelligent fashion. In other words, with the internet of things, the physical world is becoming one big information system.​

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