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More Than 1 Million Poor South Africans May Soon Become Homeowners

South Africa is embarking on an ambitious project to transfer legal home ownership of government-built settlements to as many as 1 million low-income residents beginning in April, Reuters reports

The move would, in essence, allow low-income South Africans to legally own and sell properties distributed to them as part of the country’s 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme, but which they still haven’t been given the legal title deeds to because of a Treasury Department backlog.

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The Treasury Department said Tuesday that residents could use property sales “to finance their children going to university, for example.” 

“At a conservative rate we estimate that we could unlock 180 billion rand [$15 billion] of dead assets for poor households,” James Archer, the director for human settlements at South Africa’s Treasury, told Reuters.

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The announcement comes in the context of a major push for land redistribution by the South African government. 

Last month, the Economic Freedom Fighters party introduced a motion, supported by newly-elected president Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress, to expropriate land and redistribute it to black South Africans without compensation, which passed congress with an overwhelming majority. Congress will now convene a committee to look into changing the country's constitution to adopt the land expropriation resolution by Aug. 30 of this year, which would require a two-thirds vote, according to Reuters

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Unlike the proposed land expropriation motion, the title deed transfer does not take any land from current owners, but rather simply transfer home titles that have been backlogged in the Treasury Department to their owners. 

“When we transfer title deeds, it is possibly one of the greatest methods to bring redress to our residents who were prohibited from owning property during the reign of the apartheid regime,” Benedicta van Minnen, a mayoral committee member for human settlements in Cape Town, said of similar transfers in 2016

The current backlog, according to the report, disproportionately impacts low-income residents of public housing, who make up 20% of the people who do not have title deeds to their homes. 

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Overall, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), one in two South Africans living in public housing projects did not have land titles in 2011. 

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“Many of the beneficiaries do not have proof of ownership for their properties, which has eroded the potential value of this massive asset transfer by the government,” the report stated. 

The transfer of title deeds to homeowners will take place over the course of three years, and will be done by South African provinces, according to Reuters.

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