Laurel Oettle

Director, Association for Rural Advancement

“Go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is.” This is the motto Laurel Oettle lives by, and in the process she has dedicated her work to serving South Africa’s land sector to undo the inequalities that persist from the past.

Oettle (33) is the director of the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), one of the foremost nongovernmental organisations dealing with land and rural issues in South Africa.

Founded in 1979 as a land rights advocacy NGO to assist rural communities in their struggle against forced removals, AFRA seeks innovative ways to improve the living conditions of farm dwellers, and ensure they have secure land tenure and access to services to improve their livelihoods. It empowers and mobilises farm dwellers to act on their own behalf, and prevents and opposes evictions, working with like-minded organisations to provide spaces for joint lobbying, as well as record emerging models to positively influence policy and legislation.

“AFRA has gone through a difficult few years with both funding and leadership challenges, and we’ve worked hard to find new relevance, new spaces for innovation, new energy and focus, and the secure funding that has unlocked our capacity to grow our team and the quality and breadth of our work,” says Oettle.

“We are about to start three exciting new projects, with new funding partners, including one working with youth around the creative, visual expression of their rights. We’re also launching into a new strategic planning process, which will include the design of a new programme working specifically to empower women living and working on farms.”

Oettle is also leading a precedent-setting class action case against the department of rural development and land reform to act on 20 000 labour tenant claims that have not been processed in the 15 years since they were lodged.

“Our country has many challenges, and I see three dominant themes to them all: the ever-growing inequality between rich and poor, between landowners and land occupiers, and between black and white.” — Linda Doke

Twitter: @Laurel_Oettle