News & events


Are title deeds the solution to insecure tenure?

15 August 2017
12:30 - 14:00

Date: 15 August 2017

Time: 12.30 to 14.00

Venues: Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town

Facilitator: Professor Ben Cousins, DST/NRF chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape

Presenters: Dr Rosalie Kingwill, independent policy and academic researcher specialising in land tenure and property rights. Dr Donna Hornby, post-doctoral researcher at PLAAS and works for the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) on land tenure and agrarian issues

Security of tenure is enshrined in the Bill of Rights in our constitution. Insecure tenure arising from past discriminatory legislation has and continues to be a serious problem, particularly for people living in informal settlements and rural dwellers. To give effect to this constitutional right the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform on July 7 this year gazetted the “Communal Land Rights Bill’ for which comments are invited within 60 days.

The big question, however, is whether the proposed Bill enhances the tenure rights of those who up to now have not had legal tenure to land. The authors of a recently launched publication “Untitled: Securing Land Tenure in Urban and Rural South Africa[1]” argue that laws and systems which do not reflect a clear understanding of locally embedded property relations are not likely to overcome the problem of insecure tenure. Policy interventions usually aim to formalise land tenure arrangements by issuing title deeds, as does the Communal Land Tenure Bill.  The authors question the overarching assumption that Title Deeds = Secure Tenure.

The research finds that two very different property paradigms characterise South Africa. The dominant paradigm is that of private property, referred to as an ‘edifice’, and against which all other property regimes are measured and ranked. However, the majority of South Africans gain access to land and housing through very different processes, referred to as social or off-register tenures. These tenure systems are poorly understood, a gap the book attempts to address. Although “customary property systems” can be well-organised and provide substantial tenure security, lack of official recognition and support makes them difficult to service and vulnerable to elite capture. An overarching new law is therefore necessary but not one centred around title deeds.

The HSRC seminar series is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The views and opinions expressed therein  as well as findings and statements of the seminar series do not necessarily represent the views of DST.

Pretoria : HSRC Video Conference, 1st floor HSRC Library Human Sciences Research Council, 134 Pretorius Street, Pretoria. Arlene Grossberg, Tel: (012) 302 2811, e-mail:

Cape Town : HSRC, Merchant House 116-118 Buitengracht Street Cape Town, Cape Town. Contact: Jean Witten, Tel (021) 4668004, Fax (021) 461 0299, or

Durban : 
The Atrium, 5th Floor, 430 Peter Mokaba Ridge, Berea, 4001 , Contact Ridhwaan Khan, Tel (031) 242 5400, cell: 083 788 2786 or , or Hlengiwe Zulu at e-mail