FHISER seeks to play a significant role in the development and expansion of a dynamic research culture on the East London campus of the University of Fort Hare. It strives to achieve this objective through dedicated research and post-graduate programmes, which focus on critical social, cultural and economic research issues in the Eastern Cape, and beyond.


The FHISER Land, Livelihoods and Rural Development Programme emerged out of the Institute’s involvement in research into land restitution claims in the Eastern Cape in the early 2000s. Read more.


Following President Thabo Mbeki's 2001, State of the Nation address, in which he emphasised the need for the social and economic integration of former townships into the mainstream urban economies of towns and cities, Urban Renewal and LED were identified as key research themes in South Africa. Read more.


The Culture, Heritage and Social Transformation Programme aims to encourage the development of new academic and public discourses, explanations and practices around heritage and culture in the Eastern Cape, while at the same time exploring the relationships between local cultural understandings and notions of heritage, museum practices and the development of public culture and cultural tourism in the region. Read more.


The aim of FHISER's Youth, Gender and Reproductive Health Programme is to draw attention to the politics of reproductive health by using a historical and socio-cultural lens. Read more.


The FHISER Land, Livelihoods and Rural Development Programme emerged out of the Institute’s involvement in research into land restitution claims in the Eastern Cape in the early 2000s. Starting with the verification of a set of forestry claims in the former Ciskei and developing into a thorough-going involvement with the complex issues around betterment and restitution, the theme group developed a broadly-based interest in the issues of land, livelihoods and rural development.
Current research

Rural Housing Demand Survey

FHISER was recently commissioned by the Housing Department to conduct a rural housing demand survey in the Eastern Cape. Fieldworkers administered a questionnaire to the field during the last week of September 2008 in more than 30 different Traditional Authority areas stretching from Flagstaff to Peddie. The questionnaires were designed to glean the perceptions and views of people living in these areas on current housing, household access to basic services, land use and migration patterns. Previous research conducted by FHISER has revealed some interesting issues according to FHISER Director, Professor Leslie Bank:

  • Approximately half of all rural residents are dissatisfied with their dwellings, half of those living in traditional structures were dissatisfied yet interestingly, a quarter of those living in formal dwellings were also dissatisfied;
  • The new rural housing policy states that access to a housing subsidy will require proof of continuous occupancy, yet very few households held title deeds (5%), the majority (55%) have informal tenure such as permission to occupy (PTOs) or other written proof and 35% have only verbal approval;
  • Local municipalities play a minimal role in rural land and site allocation even though the national housing policy states that municipalities have a major role to play in housing delivery; and
  • Research reveals that most rural people are unaware of organizations (governmental or non-governmental) that can assist them with housing.

The survey will be completed by the end of October 2008.
Completed research

The Communal Land Rights Act (ClaRa) Project

The Communal Land Rights Act (ClaRa) ProjectFHISER was commissioned by the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) to carry out a baseline study in communal areas in the Eastern Cape to inform the implementation of the Communal Land Rights Act (CLaRA) in the Eastern Cape . The Act is aimed at formalising communal land tenure systems by converting insecure old-order rights to secure new-order rights. This entails, among other issues, the handing over of the right to allocate and administer land, currently being held in trust by the Minister of Land Affairs, to tribal authorities in communal areas.
The act is very controversial and is the subject of an ongoing Constitutional Court challenge. The law's detractors argue that the act could effectively dispossess communities as some community members could find themselves alienated of their land.
Other commentators view the Act as entrenching, in practice, apartheid tribal authorities which exaggerate chiefly power and undermine indigenous accountability checks such as village councils and development committees.
The baseline study aimed to reflect on five critical themes: the nature of existing tenure systems, current land administration structures and their operational dynamics, local levels of development in communal areas, land use practices and the delineation of communities.
Sample selection and the identification of the research areas was carried out by the Department of Land Affairs. It spun over 14 Local Municipalities (LMs). Within these LMs, 35 Traditional Authorities were researched. Of the 14 LMs, 13 were in the Eastern Cape (EC) and one ‘UMzimkhulu' was in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN). Of the 35 TAs, 32 were in the EC and three (3) were in KZN.

Key findings of the study

Institutional arrangements: The literature review pointed to the fact that traditional authorities are not, and have never been, uniformly understood nor functioning institutions and, even within the Province, there exist discrepancies in their roles and responsibilities.
Many rural communities are loosely defined and poorly organised, often resulting in an inability to give clear voice to their needs. Loyalties are commonly divided between two types of local government – elected local authorities and traditional leaders – neither of which has been able to ensure delivery of policies aimed at improving livelihoods.
At the same time, there is a clear need for more effective and integrated planning at the project and district levels, across a range of local, provincial and national government agencies. If the first decade of democratic land reform emphasised restorative justice, the second must surely focus on redistribution of productive assets to a much wider social base as a potential route for overcoming decades of rural poverty and neglect.
Poverty and household income: Poverty is very widespread in the Eastern Cape in rural localities. In particular, the survey concludes that households in the rural areas of the former Bantustans reflect significantly high levels of poverty in relation to income and that these vulnerabilities are particularly pronounced in female headed households. It is in these rural areas that households are also the largest – approximately 5 persons per household and there are 53% female to 47% male headed households overall in these areas. This is higher than in the urban areas surveyed. Of the rural households surveyed, over 45% are single female households with children.
It is apparent that the rural areas show very high youth dependency ratios and that there are higher numbers of aged people in these areas as well.
The survey also revealed a very high reliance on social grants. Indeed, the various social grants constitute a critical livelihood resource and often determine whether a household experiences significant food shortages.
Land administration and chieftaincy: The findings reveal that land allocation and control is largely the responsibility of traditional institutions and ‘amaphakathi' play a prominent role. This is true for the allocation of residential, arable and grazing land, and it can be concluded that placing land administration under the auspices of democratically elected institutions like local municipalities may meet with resistance from rural residents.
The interesting point to note is that the traditional institutions that were regarded as oppressive prior to democracy are the ones that still administer land affairs in rural Eastern Cape . Their mandate is largely supported by the majority and this has compromised the development of democratic local government in communal areas.
Although there are arguments that the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (TLGFA) seeks to promote rural democracy, the transformation of Traditional Authorities into Traditional Councils has seen traditional leaders in these so called democratic institutions constituting the majority. Traditional leaders still have the mandate to appoint 60% of members of the TC. It should be noted that although CLaRA states that TCs ‘may' then elect a Land Administration Committee, TCs are not in a position to let go their land allocation and administration role, as illustrated by this baseline data.
It was also found that women still play an insignificant role in land matters in communal areas and this has resulted in them accessing land primarily at the prerogative of men. The most disadvantaged are married women who are regarded as subordinates to their spouses.
Land use in communal areas: The study revealed that there are no uniform rules governing the access and use of grazing land across TAs. It is worth noting that most grazing lands in some TAs are being used for residential purposes; though most TCs would like to use arable land for residential purposes when there is demand. There are no limits on the amount of stock a family can keep and this has contributed significantly to over grazing and land degradation. Grazing rotation is non-existent in these communal areas.
Fencing of arable land still remains a big issue. Arable lands are largely left fallow; fieldwork found that people said they would prefer to produce from their gardens, and they cite challenges such as lack of fencing and the migration of able bodied people to urban areas as the cause.
Survey results indicated that more than 50% of arable land remains fallow in most communal areas and this is indicative of de-agrarianisation that is currently experienced in the province.
Access to services: The provision of infrastructural and other developmental services in communal areas has not met the expectations of the rural poor. Many rural residents find electricity too expensive, the majority of rural residents in the province still draw drinking water from unprotected sources – a risk to the health and safety of the population.
Local government tensions: Disputes are primarily a result of apartheid boundaries that created the so called tribal authorities (TAs). This has further been compounded by the creation of local municipalities which often overlap with TAs. This has serious implications for service delivery.
As illustrated in the section on land administration, the unclear roles of traditional authorities/councils and local municipalities have created confusion over who is responsible for what. This has been another major stumbling block for service delivery.