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Home » March 2009

Getting to grips with land ownership in South Africa

According to a state land audit last year, South Africa's land reform programme is showing some progress, with about 18% of all land now in black hands. This excludes state-owned land and includes land in the former homelands. However, according to the Department of Land Affairs, this figure does not account for any private land sales after 1994.

In contrast to the official figure of 18%, research conducted by the Demographic Information Group and Population of South Africa (Popsa), and funded by the Development Bank, indicated that in 2001 black people owned 20% of the land, whites 44% and coloureds 9%, and that municipalities owned just over a quarter of South Africa's land. AgriSA and the Transvaal Agriculture Union are keen to fund follow-up research; both unions believe more land may have been transferred into black hands than government's official land figures suggest.

Eddie Mohoebi, spokesperson for the Department of Land Affairs, questions the statistics arising from the Popsa research. He said that because the Constitution does not allow for breakdown of land along racial lines, information or records along racial lines are not available in the Deeds Registry Database, where no race indicators are linked to the identities of citizens. Mohoebi acknowledged that 13% of the country's surface area was owned by blacks in 1994, and added that a further 4,9-million hectares or 4,69% had been added to the 1994 figure.

The national and provincial government owns about 24,5-million hectares, but the extent of municipal ownership is according to Mohebi not clear. The department cannot confirm the 25% ownership claimed by Popsa, because audits on municipal land are still to be conducted. However, the department's database shows that 1,2 million properties are owned by the various municipalities.

Mohoebi says that last year's audit of state land is now being used to identify state-owned land for use in the government's land reform programme. However, only 5% to 7% -- or two million hectares -- of state-owned land are potentially available for agricultural redistribution or disposal. While the department currently tracks black land ownership only where the government has handed land over to black communities, it has requested banks who provide financing for land acquisition to share information in this regard.

Most land audits focus on monitoring progress in rural land redistribution. Because of the number of land parcels in urban areas, and the number of people living in informal settlements, patterns of urban land ownership are even harder to track.

(Source: Yolandi Groenewald, Mail & Guardian Online, 23 January 2009)