Perry Feldman on FMF’s Khaya Lam: 8,500 new homeowners – 6m to go

There is a strong school that believes those who have accumulated wealth make great philanthropists because they understand how to leverage their resources for maximum impact. In this fascinating interview, Perry Feldman shares a practical example of this by unpacking an innovative homeowner focused project championed by the South Africa’s Free Market Foundation. By applying grants from supporters – Richemont chairman Johann Rupert among the most prominent – the FMF’s Khaya Lam project has been attacking administrative blockages and municipal red tape to secure title deeds for thousands of beneficiaries. Having these important papers has transformed the lives those who have sometimes occupied self-built homes for decades without enjoying the benefits of legal security of tenure. With 6m other South Africans in a similar position, some might ask why the FMF bothers when the odds are stacked so heavily against it. But like the little girl on the beach throwing back one of thousands of stranded starfish, while the impact might appear small, the difference for the one supported is life transforming. – Alec Hogg

A warm welcome to Perry Feldman who is going to give us some happy news. Certainly a lot of people that you guys are making happy Perry. I’ve been watching a while what you are doing at the Free Market Foundation about handing out title deeds and there is another one of these coming up later this week. You’ve been running what it’s called the Khaya Lam – My (Home) Land Reform project, how long have you been involved with this?

I’ve been involved since inception – from the time we thought about it which was about 2009 – and then it took a while to get the first council on board, we presented the first titles in October 2013 which coincidentally was 100 years after the Lands Act. I’ve been working on it full time since 20 October 2014 and it’s just taken off.

How many title deeds have been handed to people as a result of this project?

Those that are in process and handed out are 8,450 at the moment.

How did the title deeds come into the possession of those who gave it to them? Just explain that whole process to us.

Let’s start this story in our model which is in Parys, Koppies and Edenville there are five towns there. Over 70% of the houses in the Free State were self built without any state help whatsoever. Is unlike the Cape and Natal. We have an office in Ngwathe – which is a township in Parys – and people come and apply for for title deeds. They don’t have a title deed and they don’t know whether there was a title deed passed. They know they don’t have a physical title deed so they come and they apply for them. We get funds and we process these applications. The first thing that gets done is we do a deed search and we find that between 15-20% of people who apply for a title deed actually have a title deed which was never given to them – through some bureaucratic failure or whatever – we try to do both. We get a copy – which costs just about the same to get a title deed – and we use an act in the Free State called the “upgrading of land tenure rights act”, which makes it very simple and cost effective to do and that’s the basis of the project. But it’s important to remember, we didn’t go knocking on doors and asking people if they wanted the title deed, people want a title deed they know they need it. They don’t know the nuances of a title deed but they know they must have it so that nobody can take it away from them.

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Can they use their title deed – once they have it – to gear the property, borrow from the banks?

That title deed is exactly the same as you or I have in the White leafy suburbs. There are no preemptive clauses, there’s no qualifications in it whatsoever. The big thing about a title deed at the moment, is that it’s a way of escaping the poverty trap. We, in our air conditioned offices, think that now people are bankable, they can borrow money, they can start a business. The main thing that happens is parents now have a title deed and they can apply for a study loan, get their kids an education and the kids can pull the parents and the whole family out of the poverty trap. Recently the MEC for housing in the Western Cape – Tertuis Simmers – was at a presentation in Grabouw. And I went to him and said welcome and I’m very happy that you are here because we now have official recognition. He said “I’m here because I have to be here. I’m the product of a title deed. My parents lived in a community where 70% of people were on social grants. But my father had a title deed and he used this to get me a loan and now I’ve lifted my whole family out of the poverty trap.” So when you and I talk about leveraging, this is not something that is the first thing that comes to these people’s minds. It’s now I’m going to be able to educate my children and I can leave it to somebody.

Just explain this to us. There are tens of millions of people who are living in homes that presumably they don’t have title deeds for. You’ve gone through a process of finding – call it 8,500 of those – but is that not a bit of a drop in the ocean?

It is and if you include the troubled areas you can say that between 5m and 7m people live in houses that they don’t own and not likely to ever own. How are we going to transform all these numbers? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time and if there is enough pressure from the bottom up, government eventually reacts and things happen. This is what we’re seeing.

Something’s happening on Thursday in Stellenbosch and I see the name of Johann Rupert. What’s going on? Is he part of the support of this?

Johan Rupert gave us money to do title deeds in Stellenbosch and Graaff-Reinet and his mandate to us was “get people title deeds” which means that it’s broader than just what we’re doing in Ngwathe. People were in a state because of what had happened in the municipality. They would never get a title deed, we had to see how we could unravel it. So for instance in Graaff-Reinet/Aberdeen we’re doing the re-survey where 184 people will get title deeds to houses that had to be divided – semi-detached houses – and this will happen in February, March of next year. In Stellenbosch, we’ve done non-conventional things and this will be the third time that Johan Rupert will hand out title deeds, the first time we did about a 117, last year we did 356 and now there’s 133 that are going to be handed out.

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So it’s not buying houses and the ownership of the houses to people, it’s simply going through the administrative processes that haven’t been followed?

Yes and paying for the missing link.

And the missing link being some kind of incompetence within the administration.

No. In this country we have a program called the Total Restitution Project. This project pays for title deeds, so the council gets money for title deeds but there’s no finance to find out who must get the title deed, so we pay for it and it results in a title deed. Otherwise this person would never get a title deed.

Got it. So you are helping to leverage the money that the Rupert’s give you for instance – not to buy new houses for people – but actually just to make sure that the admin goes smoothly.

Yes. We don’t buy any houses and these people all live in houses and many of them have lived there for 30, 40, 50 years. In Ngwathe, for instance, a Mrs. Medupi who is 99 years, got the title deed. She and her husband had built their house with their own money and they lived in it for 35-40 years and never had a title deed. And when you ask her what it means to her, she says “nobody can take it away from me.”

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