Best of 2019: Billionaire Johann Rupert helps give property equity to thousands of township residents

First published 29 November 2019.

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has campaigned for property rights for the poor. The director of the Lima-based Institute for Liberty and Democracy has underscored that legally protected property rights are the key source of the developed world’s prosperity. Providing the world’s poor with title deeds for their land and homes could create wealth and boost economic growth because property titles allow the poor to use their real estate to borrow money and start businesses. In South Africa, it is particularly challenging to give poor people property rights because the homes in which they live are mired in complex land registration systems. South African billionaire Johann Rupert and his wife, Gaynor, have been working hard with Stellenbosch municipal officials and the Free Market Foundation to unpick the technicalities around property ownership in disadvantaged areas. Thousands of title deeds have been handed over, with more to come. – Jackie Cameron

Historic transfer of 132 title deeds in Stellenbosch thanks to the Municipality, Johann Rupert and the FMF

FMF media statement

On 21 November, at the historic Stellenbosch Town Hall, the municipality hosted a momentous occasion during which Dr Johann Rupert and his wife Gaynor presented 132 full title deeds to residents from Kaya Mandi, Klapmuts, Kylemore, Franschhoek and Le Roux townships. This had been made possible by the generosity of the Ruperts and the hard work of Cllr Gesie van Deventer, Mayor of Stellenbosch, and her team working in partnership with the Free Market Foundation’s (FMF) Khaya Lam (my home) land reform project. Taking part in the ceremony beside Mayor Deventer were Master of Ceremonies Tabiso Mfeya (Stellenbosch Director of Planning and Economic Development), Leon Louw (Executive Director FMF), and Temba Nolutshungu (FMF Cape Town Director).

For over 40 years, the FMF has championed the cause of converting the various forms of apartheid titles found in the townships to full, unambiguous ownership for the current tenants. To date, the Ruperts have sponsored 1,000 titles in Stellenbosch and 1,000 in Graff Reinet where Dr Rupert’s father Anton was born. To date, 585 title deeds have been presented in Stellenbosch with more to come in March 2020. The Ruperts have pledged a further 10,000 titles.

In partnership with Khaya Lam and the Municipality, Johann and Gaynor Rupert are making a tangible difference to the lives of ordinary South Africans and especially the poorest people living in Stellenbosch. The joint aim is to bring about true economic and social transformation through property ownership. When the residents enter the hall, they enter as tenants. When they walk out, they are home owners in possession of fully tradeable freehold tenure, taking their first step towards real economic empowerment.

In his address before the title deed presentation, Johann Rupert stated that his family was extremely fortunate in the wealth that they have amassed and that they needed to use it for the greater good. “It is easy to give away money but more difficult to find organisations that spend the time to use the funds properly and efficiently,” he said, and commended the FMF and Khaya Lam for their ability to do this.

Mayor Gesie said, “As Annie Danielson said, ‘Home is where your story begins’. The handing over of title deeds is critical in redressing the injustices of the past and empowering families for generations to come. Title deeds allow beneficiaries access to the economic benefits that come with the owning of property and allows residents to alter and upgrade these properties to their needs, as they were never able to do before. Thus, a title deed not only gives a person the ownership of a property but acts as a passport to participation in the economy.”

Pictured are Johann & Gaynor Rupert and Stellenbosch mayor Cllr Gesie van Deventer

Mayor Gesie continued, “This is a very costly and time-consuming process and I am very grateful for the assistance of the FMF’s Khaya Lam project and the funding provided by Dr and Mrs Rupert through the Reinet Foundation. Khaya Lam is also assisting the municipality by funding the employment of additional temporary administrative support to increase our capacity and speed up the process of transferring registered title deeds.”

Among the 132 recipients, there was 82 year old No England Ndude from Kaya Mandi; General Thabisa Hlwemp and Puwase Ellen Hlwempu aged 82 and 79 respectively also from Kaya Mani; and from Klapmuts, 76 year old Arthur Jacobs and his neighbour Mercia Jacobs (no relation) also aged 76, and Njemgele Churehill Mali aged 75.

Louw said, “All Khaya Lam presentations of title deeds are special. For the recipients it is the culmination of a lifetime of struggle to achieve economic independence and true freedom. We are deeply grateful to Johann and Gaynor Rupert for their generous sponsorship without which we cannot do this critical work on behalf of black tenants. He and fellow business leaders and individual sponsors keep Khaya Lam going. The importance of tradable security of tenure cannot be underestimated and it has been my life’s ambition to see every South African having a tradable title deed to the property that they occupy.”

Pictured are FMF Director Temba A Nolutshungu, Johann & Gaynor Rupert and Stellenbosch mayor Cllr Gesie van Deventer

A title deed makes a profound difference in the lives of the holders enabling them to improve their living standards, raise loans from banks to educate their children, start small businesses, access better healthcare and more. Homeowners contribute to the overall economic upliftment of a community.

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