Whose Land is it Anyway? Unity and Divisions in the Development of Joe Slovo

By Evelyn Benekane (on behalf of FEDUP) and Kwanda Lande (on behalf of CORC)

The “land issue” is probably the most debated topic in South Africa today. This is after a motion was passed by the parliament of South Africa to establish an ad hoc Constitutional Review Committee, to “review and amend section 25 of the Constitution to make it possible for the state to expropriate land in the public interest without compensation”. Currently, debates are reduced to land expropriation and neglect related issues such as land management challenges.

In this piece we share what some of these land management challenges look like for FEDUP in the Eastern Cape, where the Joe Slovo community has been struggling to access land for housing. In particular, the Federation experience highlights how conflicting interests around the Joe Slovo Communal Property Association (CPA) acted as a major impediment for Joe Slovo community members to access houses and title deeds.

“For the past 20 years the community of Joe Slovo was divided between two groups contesting the status of the Joe Slovo CPA. This left people without houses. People are struggling to buy electricity because they are not registered owners due to maladministration. There are no individual title deeds…”

(Evelyn Benekane)

This piece is an outcome of desktop research and interviews with Evelyn Benekane (FEDUP regional coordinator), who also wrote down the original content for this piece. She has been a community activist in Joe Slovo since the beginning of the settlement and she led the mobilising process to acquire land for housing since in 1995. Evelyn Benekane also acted as a signatory on behalf of the community when the Joe Slovo Community Property Association (CPA) was established in 1997 as part of the land restitution programme of South Africa . She was also elected as a spokesperson of the land committee, a platform for negotiating with the landowner and the municipality.

Joe Slovo Context and Its Development History

Joe Slovo is a settlement established in 1995 by organised members of the FEDUP. The settlement started as an informal settlement and was later developed into a formal housing (RDP) settlement. It is located on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth CBD and in proximity to the small CBD of Dispatch. The Joe Slovo community has attracted new residents over the past 21 years, mostly coming from the nearby rural areas in the hope of finding a better life in the city.

Taken in 2016 by Joubert Loots, this panorama picture of Joe Slovo demonstrate some of the housing typology and infrastructure.

Taken in 2016 by Joubert Loots, this panorama picture of Joe Slovo demonstrate some of the housing typology and infrastructure.

The idea of establishing Joe Slovo began in 1994, when residents of Veeplaas (an informal settlement in Port Elizabeth) became aware of the idea of coming together to save. This was a result of an exchange organised by FEDUP in the Eastern Cape to bring different informal settlements in Port Elizabeth to share experiences to alleviate poverty. In this meeting FEDUP introduced savings as a pivotal tool for alleviating poverty and accessing housing. In 1995 Injongo Zama Afrika savings scheme was started by informal residents of Veeplaas with the objective to acquire land and build housing by using their savings.

One of the important moments in the existence of the Injongo Zama Afrika savers was in 1995 when they identified 263 hectares of land. This land, owned by Sunridge Estate and Development Corporation (a big land developer that owned land in the area), had been lying unattended for 50 years. As a result, Injongo Zama Afrika members decided to occupy the plot and then, establish their shacks on it. In parallel, members formed the land committee as a platform for negotiations with the owners and Evelyn Benekane was elected as group spokesperson. Sunridge Estate and Development Corporation priced the land at R2million, a price that was too high for the community.

In the meantime, the municipality wanted to evict the people living in the settlement but they managed to stay since they had already started negotiating with the landowner. As the community did not have money to purchase the land, it was assisted by People’s Dialogue (a support organisation to the Federation at the time) that made contact with the Department of Land Affairs (DLA). The community had developed a Residential and Agricultural Plan that they  submitted and which was accepted by DLA. The outcome of this process was the formation of a Communal Property Association named by members as the Joe Slovo CPA.

Community Led Development in Joe Slovo

In 1997, a deed of transfer was granted by the DLA to the Joe Slovo CPA with Evelyn Benekane as the chairperson and signatory on behalf of the CPA. This encouraged the community to start designing their layout plan and, with the support of People’s Dialogue, hired Ulwazi Engineering services to formalise the plan and submit a proposal for housing and infrastructure development. This comprised water and sewer installation, and a total of 1940 houses, which were to be built in different phases. The members wanted to demonstrate how much could be done with little money in a short period of time, as the municipality did not make further plans for development.

The Joe Slovo community meets in 1997. Pictured in the white shirt on the left is community leader Evelyn Benekane.

The Joe Slovo community meets in 1997. Pictured in the white shirt on the left is community leader Evelyn Benekane.

In order to start phase one, Injongo Zama Afrika members accessed R1 million from uTshani Fund in 1997 to finance water and sewer installation for 340 structures. In the same year, the land was rezoned for township and agricultural use. The funds for bulk infrastructure and high mast lights were also approved by uTshani. To assist in paying this loan, the community decided to negotiate with the National Department of Human Settlements and Department of Land Affairs. This was after the community began experiencing some difficulties in repaying their loan to uTshani Fund. 

After 2000, the Injongo Zama Afrika saving scheme struggled to encourage members to save, as the ward councillor convinced people, that the development of Joe Slovo should be taken over by the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. By this time, the infrastructure for the 340 sites was already installed for phase one but not complete. Struggling to pay back the borrowed money for the infrastructure development, the savers decided to approach the National Department of Human Settlements (DHoS). They explained that the municipality had not made immediate plans for infrastructure development for Joe Slovo. The request was for the community to be given money to install infrastructure as there was no agreement with the municipality to install infrastructure.

Subsequently, the DoHS considered a policy that says all communities that were given land through CPAs must be given money to install infrastructure for the duration that there is no agreement with municipalities. By the time an agreement would be reached with municipalities, including approval of plans to install infrastructure, the money allocated can then be given back to the DoHS. As a result, the R1 million borrowed from uTshani Fund was paid back by the DoHS. Nevertheless, uTshani Fund decided to plough the money back, so that the installation of phase one – water and sewage – could be completed.

Divisions in the Community

Since then, internal conflicts in the Joe Slovo CPA have created challenges. Since 1999, the community became more divided. On the one hand there was a group, led by CPA members that pushed for the CPA to go forward with applications for housing and title deeds. On the other hand, there was a group led by a local ward councillor that wanted to dissolve the CPA and hand over responsibilities for the land and housing project to the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Municipality. 

Meanwhile, in Joe Slovo, the CPA had already negotiated for phase one infrastructure and pursued agricultural projects. By 2000 the application for service installation in the second portion of the 1600 sites was already complete. However, the remainder who had not received services were getting impatient that it would take a long time to access services through loans. Instead they wanted the municipality to do the installation. This was fuelled by a promise from the local ward councillor that the municipality would install services only after the Joe Slovo land was transferred to the municipality. At one point the community even stopped saving, as word got around that government was giving away free houses.

At the time, the CPA had already applied for Provincial Institutional Subsidies to fast track housing delivery for those that had not received houses. An institutional subsidy is a government grant designed for institutions that provide the option of tenure arrangements to beneficiaries instead of immediate ownership. This housing subsidy was in the process of being approved, but the community did not accept it, because they wanted immediate ownership of their houses with title deeds. After the community had amended their initial application, they applied for People’s Housing Process (PHP) housing in the year 2003, which was approved. PHP is a process where beneficiaries are actively involved in the decision making over the housing process, product and make a contribution towards the building of their own houses.

Taken by Saga, in 2016 shows one of the agricultural project in Joe Slovo and incomplete houses.

Taken by Saga, in 2016 shows one of the agricultural project in Joe Slovo and incomplete houses.

In 2004, when the members of the CPA were preparing to implement phase two of the housing project – conducting beneficiary administration, dividing sites and preparing the community for development – the councillor opposed the initiative. His reason was that he wanted the development to be run by the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro municipality. He argued that the community would lose out on development provided by the municipality, as the community privately owned Joe Slovo. In the community people increasingly believed what the local councillor was saying. This was compounded by the fact that there was an increasing number of new residents in Joe Slovo, who did not understand the history of community organising through savings in Joe Slovo.

Joe Slovo CPA vs. Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Court Case

It was clear by 2005 that there had been a shift of power/influence in the settlement. As a result there was a growing voice demanding the handover of the Joe Slovo land to the municipality. This culminated in community dialogues that were initiated and facilitated by mediators employed by the municipality. A report conducted by the mediators concluded that the community approved that land should be given to the municipality in 2005. This statement, however, did not include the voices of the original founders of Joe Slovo and CPA members who refused to hand over land to the municipality. Additionally, members questioned the neutrality of the municipality-employed mediators.

Soon after the report was published the municipality requested hand over of the title deed, but some members of the CPA refused. Due to these events, the municipality took the refusing members to the Eastern Cape High Court in 2006. Accordingly, the CPA members required support and assistance from Legal Aid for representation. As Legal Aid advised the community, they prepared a memorandum detailing reasons for the refusal as well as a clear statement that members would only release the title deed for the sake of progress of development without letting go of their land.

The High Court welcomed the handing over of the title deed and ruled, however, that both the CPA and municipality would need to follow a process to hand over land. This would mean that CPA members must sign for de-registration of the CPA, however, this never took place. By the time the court case was closed, the councillor was appointed as chairperson of the CPA.

The Aftermath of the Court Case

The local ward councillor in Joe Slovo, as the chairperson of the CPA, further advocated for hand over of the land to the municipality. However, he was faced with a contradiction that made it difficult for him to sign for deregistration of the Joe Slovo CPA. The contradiction was that he was accepted and embraced by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform as someone who can sign on behalf of the CPA since he was a member of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro council.

Additionally, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform requested that if the Joe Slovo CPA elects a new committee it must not only have new members. The request was that the chairperson must add five more people to the top executive from the outgoing committee for continuation. But this was not done. It seemed the councillor was not interested in building the Joe Slovo CPA. 

Between 2005 and 2010 the Joe Slovo CPA did not convene any general meetings. This means that the community did not receive any formal feedback about the CPA. As a result, it became clear later that the local ward councillor did not succeed in deregistering the CPA as a result of the contradiction he was faced with. One can assume that the reason why there was no reporting back to the community by the local ward councillor/chairperson was because he did not want to tell people that he did not succeed in deregistering the CPA.

In 2009 it was evident that not everyone on the beneficiary list had received a house. As a result, FEDUP engaged with the Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements and, via uTshani Fund, submitted an application for subsidies for beneficiaries on the housing list. Some members’ subsidies were never approved, as they needed an agreement of sale from the landowner. At this stage it was not clear to the community who owned Joe Slovo land, between CPA and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, since there was never a community report back about the status the CPA.

Nevertheless, FEDUP approached the local ward councillor to seek assistance and clarity. The ward councillor replied by referring FEDUP to the municipality as the “owner” of the land. Based on the property register database of the municipality, FEDUP was told that the Joe Slovo land was never transferred to the municipality and that it is still owned by the CPA. Indeed, a copy of the original title deed received from the deeds office in Cape Town demonstrates that the land belongs to the CPA.

Governemental subsidy housing in Joe Slovo picture: saga

Governemental subsidy housing in Joe Slovo picture: Saga 2016

Uniting a Divided Community

Today in Joe Slovo there are people who have not received title deeds. Some never had a chance to receive houses and subsidies to build their houses. This is a direct consequence of conflicting and opposing interests in the Joe Slovo CPA, which are coined by two opposing parties, contesting the status of the Joe Slovo Community Property Association. Despite immense pressure to hand over the land to the municipality, the community was able to retain land ownership in Joe Slovo, which is legally registered under the Joe Slovo CPA.

The main problem in Joe Slovo today is political rather than legal. The question therefore is: How do you ensure that people are supported to access housing and title deeds? Today the community of Joe Slovo believes that this question can be answered by building a united community. Presently, there is a new ward councillor in Joe Slovo and this opens up new opportunities to support community led initiatives.

FEDUP is planning to conduct a community survey and the councilor is providing assistance. This community led survey will involve everyone who was a role player as a step to unite the community. It will show the houses that have been built and who built them. It will reveal who received the house, because some of the people living in these houses are not the owners. 

There is a case whereby provincial housing subsidies were approved and given to Thubeletsha Homes, which was a government-housing agency mandated to build low-cost housing. However, Thubeletsha Homes is no longer building houses and was taken over by the Housing Development Agency (HDA) due to being in “financial distress”. The community survey is the first step towards conducting a follow up on subsidies given to Thubeletsha Homes. The new ward councilor has arranged for the team from the office of the MEC of Human Settlements to provide some assistance in this regard.

Based on the meeting that was held between the community and officials from the office of the MEC of Human Settlements there was a general suggestion to request presidential intervention, since the community has engaged both local and provincial structures with limited success.

Conclusion

The Joe Slovo housing development project has existed for over 20 years. The experiences to date provide vital lessons especially in the current time, where the “land issue” is the most debated topic in South Africa. In the debate of amending laws the experience of FEDUP does not dispute the debate of legal instruments as impediment to access land/housing. However, FEDUPs experience contributes to the debate by demonstrating that there is a political layer which can be an impediment to accessing land/housing. This means that it is not enough to concentrate only on legal instruments and that there is a need to also understand the role of socio-political dynamics on the “land issue”.

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