Mayor de Lille’s rates policies are helping to make Cape Town ungovernable
On its own Cape Town cannot invite its neighbouring and distant towns and cities to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as the Statue of Liberty promises. But by any objective measure Mayor de Lille is coping the best with an unprecedented ingress of poor South Africans. Yet she is mistaken in blaming the landless for wanting to make the City ungovernable when she is complicit in defying the unequivocal Constitutional directive in sec 25.5 that:
“the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis”.
The reasons for this are manifold but most importantly it gives the same right in land to humans as ducks have to water, eagles to the firmament and kingklip to the ocean? The earth is the place where all us creatures have to work to live.
Land is also not just a right which fosters freedom and dignity but is the origin of all wealth. Each parcel is a well-stocked treasure chest. According to the constitution, everyone over eighteen must have a key, or title deed. People need to open the lid and take what they need. A 500m² arable erf is all that is necessary to hand-build a decent house out of the earth and feed a family of four. That is twenty to a hectare, a rugby ground. Using a broad brush, there are 27 million unused hectares of arable land in South Africa according to Frost and Sullivan, so there is enough vacant land to house and feed 540 million families, forty times the present population.
Not all land is worth the same. Bishopscourt is richer than Delft; Adderley St is better than Bree St; Paarden Eiland beats Philippi and a Stellenbosch farm trumps one in the Karoo. Land values therefore depend not on the owner but on nature’s bounty, its location as well as City and State infrastructure and services. Nevertheless since 1994 vacant residential plots across the country rose on average fourteen times to R550K, a world record considering CPI went up four times. This is what people are willing to pay to have the land and infrastructure in a suburb like Southfield.
The Mayor will say that the City does not have the resources to buy land for everybody. But the City’s rates and taxes policy nurtures land price inflation. It can stop this subsidy by charging punitive rates and taxes on all vacant land, four times more than presently. Then every R100K of a residential plot will have no entry price but will incur rates and taxes of R400pm whilst the disuse continues.
This one measure will bring all the privately owned vacant land in Cape Town into use. For why will owners speculate in land when the City captures all of the expected, but unearned profit. The city is aware of this and penalises the disuse by charging double the rates that it levies on houses. In their turn Joburg and Durban already charge double that of Cape Town does for vacant land.
Apart from the unfairness, it is also illegal not to use land. There is no zoning scheme in the country, probably in the world, which gives consent to disuse or speculation. On the contrary zoning is confined to residential, business, industrial, state and farming uses. So land must be used to grow, rear or build things. Just bringing those arable lands into production will disperse many queues at factory gates.
For a City that prides itself on the opportunities it creates for its citizens, affordable land is unsurpassed. Whilst the Mayor boasts that the Cape Town insalls infrastructure and this attracts investors, the irony is that presently it also puts up land prices. This means that for some the first steps onto the property ladder remain out of reach. Penalty rates will fix that.
Andreas Guerillimo, an Argentinian diarist makes a serious point that if a bomb went off every day killing twenty bystanders it would be a terrorist attack. But in Argentina twenty pass away daily in kilometres of shacks around Buenos Aires because of preventable diseases and other jobless and landless conditions. Yet no one has been arrested. And how many millions are there in South Africa who dream of escaping the dark and dangerous life-style of the townships and rusty corrugated iron suburbs?
(published in the Cape Times, 22 September 2014.)
29 September 2014 by Peter Meakin
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