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Blockchain-based property register pilot in the works

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The Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa (CAHF), 71point4 and Seso Global have joined forces to run a pilot project aimed at developing a blockchain-based property register.

According to a statement, the pilot study area consists of almost 1 000 properties located in four sites in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, in the City of Cape Town. All the properties are government-subsidised properties that have not yet been registered on the Deeds Registry.

Through the project, the three organisations are looking to address SA’s titling problem.

In this instance, blockchain technology has been identified as the solution because it allows the data to be stored in a decentralised database that can be updated without any loss of historic data.

This means there is a secure, back-to-back record of all transactions that is completely tamper-poof. Eventually, the vision would be to integrate this record into the Deeds Registry when other impediments to transfer have been removed, notes the statement.

CAHF CEO Kecia Rust says government has built over three million houses through the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) since 1994. But CAHF’s analysis of deeds office data indicates only 1.9 million of these properties have been registered.

The Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation estimates the title deed backlog for RDP properties built prior to 2014 currently stands at 511 752.

These properties were given to beneficiaries, but no title deeds were registered and handed over. At the same time, there is a backlog of 351 470 title deeds on newer properties.

“To create a register of property owners, we first had to go door to door to find out who lives in each property and to establish how they came to be there,” says Illana Melzer, founder and lead consultant at 71point4.

“We hired a team of 17 enumerators and trained them to collect information and capture supporting documents. Thankfully, we can leverage smartphones to collect the data, but it still requires a significant effort. It took us two months to cover these areas.”

Melzer points out it will take some time before all the required information has been collected and validated. It will also take time for validated properties to be registered on the deeds registry. However, in the meantime, they will enable property owners and occupants to keep those records up to date.

“We hope these properties can be registered in the deeds registry within a few months, and we are working closely with the City of Cape Town to facilitate that.

“Where the beneficiary no longer lives in the property, we are in the process of tracing the beneficiary to confirm information we have gathered on who owns the property. We will also be working closely with the city on a resolution process where ownership is disputed.”

Speaking at the SingularityU South Africa Summit last year, Nathana Sharma, programme director for faculty affairs at Singularity University, said blockchain technology can help solve problems around land ownership in Africa.

Referencing The Economist, Sharma said more than two-thirds of land ownership in Africa is insecure, which is a tremendous problem. She highlighted the significant impact of blockchain to secure land ownership records on the African continent.

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