South Africa’s landowners fear for their property

At least 2.9 million to 3.6 million people live in informal settlements in South Africa, although experts say the real number is likely much higher. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 08 September 2020

South Africa’s landowners fear for their property

  • Housing rights campaigners say many poor renters have been unable to work and pay rent in a country where affordable housing is in short supply

WALKERVILLE, South Africa: On an abandoned private farm south of Johannesburg, the sound of hammers bashing nails into corrugated iron, brooms sweeping away the dust and a faint chatter of voices can be heard on a nearby road.

It is the sound of dozens of shacks being hastily built in the Walkerville town of the Midvaal, a semi-rural farming area in South Africa, where growing demand for land and housing is fueling a wave of similar occupations.

“We’re here to build ourselves a new home and a new life,” said Tantaswa, 37, who did not want her real name used for fear of being evicted.

Tantaswa said she bought the plot and building materials for 2,800 rand ($162) on Facebook but did not receive any title deeds or know anything about the seller or the owner of the unoccupied property.

“It’s a risk to build here, but we have to take it because we’re suffering in the nearby township,” she said, as she swept away dust with her daughter outside their recently erected shack.

The land was previously occupied by now deceased farmer Richard Makhetha, who invested in its upkeep, and his widow said she was seeking advice from the Department of Agriculture on what to do about the occupations.

In June, Walkerville become a hotspot for land occupations on unused private property, led by a group of local men calling themselves The Big Six.

Elsewhere in South Africa, land occupations have gathered pace during the coronavirus lockdown, often ending in shack demolitions or evictions by authorities despite a directive that municipalities must suspend evictions during the pandemic curbs.

Housing rights campaigners said many poor renters have been unable to work and pay rent in a country where affordable housing is in short supply.

But Midvaal Mayor Bongani Baloyi said the occupations were “not about housing issues, this is about criminality,” referring to groups such as The Big Six or the Facebook land sellers.

“For me this is a simple legal issue. The law says we must protect private property, and that is what we will continue to do,” he said.

Twenty-six years into democracy following the end of apartheid, land ownership remains a thorny issue in South Africa, which is one of the world’s most unequal countries, according to the World Bank.

President Cyril Ramaphosa launched a drive in 2018 to change the constitution to make explicit provision for the redistribution of land without payment to address inequality.

According to the most recent census figures, at least 2.9 million to 3.6 million people live in informal settlements in South Africa, although experts say the real number is likely much higher.

People like Tantaswa say they are tired of waiting decades for government-assisted housing.


Saudi Arabia looks to cut spending in bid to shrink deficit

Updated 01 October 2020

Saudi Arabia looks to cut spending in bid to shrink deficit

  • Saudi Arabia has issued about SR84 billion in sukuk in the year to date

LONDON: Saudi Arabia plans to reduce spending next year by about 7.5 percent to SR990 billion ($263.9 billion) as it seeks to reduce its deficit. This compares to spending of SR1.07 trillion this year, it said in a preliminary budget statement.

The Kingdom anticipates a budget deficit of about 12 percent this year falling to 5.1 percent next year.

Saudi Arabia released data on Wednesday showing that the economy contracted by about 7 percent in the second quarter as regional economies faced the twin blow of the coronavirus pandemic and continued oil price weakness.

The unemployment rate among Saudis increased to 15.4 percent in the second quarter compared with 11.8 percent in the first quarter of the year.

The challenging headwinds facing regional economies is expected to spur activity across debt markets as countries sell bonds to help fund spending.

Saudi Arabia has already issued about SR84 billion in sukuk in the year to date.

“Over the past three years, the government has developed (from scratch) a well-functioning and increasingly deeper domestic sukuk market that has allowed it to tap into growing domestic and international demand for Shariah-compliant fixed income assets,” Moody’s said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“This, in turn, has helped diversify its funding sources compared with what was available during the oil price shock of 2015-16 and ease liquidity pressures amid a more than doubling of government financing needs this year,” the ratings agency added.