Lindokuhle Mdabe

Johannesburg and Soweto present two opposite worlds, and very little has been done to address this instance of spatial inequality. In his collection of short-stories (The Will to Die): Can Themba writes movingly of the razing of Sophiatown in the ‘Requiem for Sophiatown’. “Long ago I decided to concede, to surrender to the argument that Sophiatown was a slum, after all. I am itchingly nagged by the thought that slum-clearance should have nothing to do with the theft of freehold rights. But the sheer physical fact of Sophiatown’s removal has intimidated me,” he lamented. Can Themba’s imagination, consciousness and melancholia are my daily route now. I drive from one township in Buhle Park in Ekurhuleni to, Dobsonville, Soweto in the south west of Johannesburg, drifting from one position of gloominess to the other. Stephen Bantu Biko has long lamented our psychological condition in the townships as one of lack of material needs coupled with spiritual poverty.Over the past few days whilst driving on the M2 freeway, I sawthe aggressive smoker, which is theLisbon Bank building, where the Gauteng Department of Human Settlement (GDHS) is located. There was so much blackness in the smoke, as if to depict a mirror image of a dark cloud hanging over ourpoor forms of land tenure in townships. The M2 route immediately leads me into Diepkloof, right through toMeadowlands and then to DobsonvilleKopanong Community Centre, where our new offices are situated, the Legal Advisory and Information Centre (LAIC Law Clinic). The Sowetan landscape has always intrigued me. The dormitory apartheid housing development, monotonously identical raw upon raw,immediately swallows me into the centre of political administration in Kopanong Community Centre. Apartheid spatial planning and forced evictions created the slum conditions and it was coupled by denial of black people freehold through law. Meadowland and Diepkloofare now home to descendants of Sophiatown. They mostly live there under an apartheid permit granted to them under the influx control regulation of 1968 (and yes, Mr Themba Sir, on the same year you died), and with mostly no freehold rights. Where title-deeds have been granted, unresolved family disputes exist. In a 24 year old constitutional democracy, Soweto still remains a site of struggles against insecure land tenure. At a macro level, the City of Johannesburg and the GDHS have failed to adequately address the conversion of these apartheid residential and site permits in the manner that protects all the rights of the family members of the permit holders. At a micro level, property disputes have ensued between siblings and relatives along blood linesleading to litigation that has emphasised non-compliance with the Conversion of Certain Rights into Ownership Act of 1993 as Amended. In particular, that the inquiry by the Director-General (DG) of the GDHS had not been conducted before a declaration as to the ownership of the residential unit was made. A plethora of cases seem to suggest that there is a problem with the process of converting permits into title-deeds. The conversation that this article intends to kick-start is whether the triple strategy of litigation, research and public information sharing and training in this and other similar contexts can be a catalyst for community-based agenda. On the one hand, litigation has been at work here since the case of Nzimande v Nzimande where the South Gauteng High Court held that where an inquiry by the DG of the GDHS to determine who is the rightful beneficiary/ (ies) of the residential unit has not been conducted, a title-deed registered over the residential unit may be cancelled. However, similar cases still persist, and they still inundate LAIC’s case register roll. On the other hand, whilst litigation is at work here, there is no case that has grappled with the concept of a “family house” as understood in townships.Even instances of customary forms of land ownership have been dismissed. Despite the existence of these calls on the ground, litigation has been stirred to seeking remedies for theregistration of individuals on the title deed in line with the common law notion of ownership. Whilst litigation driven remedies are already at work here, there is a profound lack of knowledge and documentation of process since the work of civic activismby Shreen Duncan, Arthur Chaskalson from the Black Sash and the Legal Resources Centre, respectively. Although the Legal Aid Board continues to conduct concrete legal assistance, most of it is mainly in criminal courts. Most black families who are affected by apartheid township residential permits know very little about the process of conversion of the permits into title-deedsfor the purposes of ownership. The subject-matterof most this run-off-the-mill litigation is mainly family disputes around mis-conversions and fraudulent or mal-administration of deceased estate, with the consequence that title deeds get to be registered against the name of one sibling to the exclusion of the others. It is because of lack of public information sharing and civic training that we have almost no community-based strategyand agenda on the issue. It could very well be that the state does not understand its role to be one of public information sharing and civic training. The reality is that in the absence of documentation of these human experiences with the system, public information sharing and civic training, the interventions will always be top-down and based on land administration and management systems that do not align themselves with the situation at community level. Therefore LAIC Law Clinic calls on affected communities to meet and carve new strategies that could be used as a basis for a new land administration and management strategy in township affected by apartheid permits.