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Title deeds: Local government’s answer to land ownership that provides meaningful access to opportunity

Solly Msimanga is the current mayor of The City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality. See his Wikipedia profile.

With the recent debates regarding land reform in the country I felt it appropriate to articulate the way in which at a local level we are actively addressing the issue of land ownership.

When the DA-led administration took control of the City of Tshwane in August 2016 we discovered a title deed backlog stretching back years. Not long after we took office we had multiple communities from around the city engaging the administration about when they would receive their title deeds.

As such when we took office I made it one of my key priorities to ensure that the city accelerated its administrative processes to fast track the issuing of title deeds to our people. In this current financial year we set a target of issuing 6,000 title deeds. We have already given out 3,078 title deeds so far and we are well on our way to achieving our target. This, despite the fact that at some of ceremonies where we handed out title deeds we faced disruptions from the ANC.

Individual economic prosperity cannot be achieved without economic security. One of the most fundamental principles to economic security is that of private property rights, a right that is enshrined in our Constitution. Under the ANC we saw that the championing of this right was largely side-lined, communities were left without title deeds for decades, trapping them in poverty.

There is a theory developed by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar known as the “dead capital theory” and it relates to property that is informally held but not legally recognised. He argued that because of the uncertainty regarding the ownership of the asset, you can expect that this not only decreases the value of the asset but also hampers your ability to borrow or lend money against the asset.

Based on this theory above you can more firmly appreciate the value of a title deed. Without one, an asset can become commercially worthless to a certain extent. With a title deed, an owner may have access to various other economic opportunities, one being the access to capital. You see that once you have that legal security providing you with ownership of the property you can then use it as means to access loans from financial institutions which would assist in funding a new business or paying for educational opportunities to up-skill yourself.

However, it goes further than that as well. Without a title deed, you can only imagine how difficult it is to transfer a property to a family member. If the owner of a property dies it can cause significant challenges in who becomes the legitimate beneficiary of the property because the process of transferring the property to another person is problematic without the title deed attached to the property.

In the City of Tshwane we will continue to ensure that we prioritise the distribution of title deeds to our people. It is disturbing that the ANC has been so quick to engage on land expropriation without compensation, when at a local level of government they have failed so dismally to get the very basics right. We are now rectifying those mistakes and addressing the backlogs with our residents.

For us it is not just about ensuring that they have economic security, but also fundamentally a matter of human dignity as well. DM


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