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Who owns what land in South Africa?

Despite a state land audit last year, it is still unclear who owns what land in South Africa. Officially South Africa’s land reform programme seems to be progressing at a snail’s pace with about 18% of all land in black hands.

This excludes state-owned land and includes land in the former homelands.

But the official figure of 18% does not account for any private land sales after 1994, the Department of Land Affairs told the Mail & Guardian.

In December a media report in popular Afrikaans agriculture magazine Landbouweekblad speculated that black land ownership might be far higher than official figures suggest. The report cited a joint project conducted by the Demographic Information Group and Population of South Africa (Popsa) which that in 2001 blacks owned 20% of the land, whites 44% and coloureds 9%, and that muncipalities owned just over a quarter of South Africa’s land.

Popsa researcher Cobus Jordaan said the project — funded by the Development Bank — analysed properties by examining South Africa’s different magasterial districts. The researchers took as a given that property in the former homelands were already in black hands.

Jordaan said the figures were presented to the Department of Land Affairs in 2001 with an offer of follow-up research, but that department had expressed no interest.

AgriSA and the Transvaal Agriculture Union, however, have asked Jordaan to pursue the research . Both unions had previously expressed reservations about the government’s official land figures, saying they believe more land may have been transferred into black hands than these figures suggest.

Eddie Mohoebi, spokesperson for the Department of Land Affairs, questions the statistics arising from Jordaan’s 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. ‘Furthermore, ownership of company-owned land is also changing constantly as and when shares are sold,” he said.

He 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 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-millon 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. But the department says only 5% to 7% — or two million hectares — of state-owned land are potentially available for agricultural redistribution or disposal.

Mohoebi says at the moment the department tracks black land ownership only where the government has handed land over to black communities.

‘However, we are requesting the banks who provide financing for land acquisition to share information in this regard,” he said. ‘To date they have not given us the information.”

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Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald is a South African environmental reporter, particularly experienced in the investigative field. After 10 years at the Mail & Guardian, she signed on with City Press in 2011. Her investigative environmental features have been recognised with numerous national journalism awards. Her coverage revolves around climate change politics, land reform, polluting mines, and environmental health. The world’s journey to find a deal to address climate change has shaped her career to a great degree. Yolandi attended her first climate change conference in Montreal in 2005. In the last decade, she has been present at seven of the COP’s, including the all-important COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. South Africa’s own addiction to coal in the midst of these talks has featured prominently in her reports.

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