Rural folk need security of tenure too

On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his annual address at the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders.  

Ramaphosa’s speech was a hopeful one, outlining what he described as a national master plan for traditional governance; a blueprint for banishing rural poverty, reducing gender-based violence in rural communities and establishing security of tenure for communities living on land under the control of traditional leaders.

The president’s speech painted a picture of harmonious life for rural communities and traditional leaders, a picture that is far from the reality of the systemic abuse rural people face in their daily lives.

In reality, despite a constitution that says we are equal, and elected representatives who act for us, many in this country are forced to live in limbo.

The abuse of tenure rights by the Ingonyama Trust Board, whose residential lease programme is the subject of a high court challenge, has been well documented.


So, too, have individual acts of abuse in traditional communities around the country.

Last week, we wrote about how families in the Eastern Cape are living in fear for their lives after being forcibly removed from their ancestral land by the local traditional leader. 

The provincial government is either unwilling or unable to intervene, standing by while people’s rights are trampled upon by leaders whom they both fund and legitimise.

This week, we tell the story of a community in KwaMhlanga in Mpumalanga. Despite winning their claim to their land, they are now faced with a land invasion because the traditional leader has been selling off their land for R5 000 a plot.

If only these were isolated incidents. 

Across South Africa our dual system of governance means elected officials sit these issues out and leave it to traditional leaders to rule over people how they see fit. 

Yes, our country is one where we try to balance rights, but it cannot be that people can be abused in this way without consequence.

Until these issues are addressed and people living on tribally controlled land have security of tenure, Ramaphosa’s master plan will continue to benefit those in power, and not those it is meant to protect.

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