Up to 21% of land is state owned, says surveyor general

The state, by way of various government organs, owns at least 17 061 882 hectares of land in South Africa, the surveyor general said on Thursday, accounting for 14% of the surface area of the country.

Another 8.36-million hectares, or 7%, is officially unaccounted for, although much of it is expected to be accounted for as government-owned once the paperwork is in place.

"There is about four-million hectares in former the former Transkei that is not registered," said chief surveyor general Mmuso Riba at a post-Cabinet media briefing in Pretoria. "We are currently finalising the surveying thereof."

Another 1.2-million hectares is unaccounted for in Limpopo, and nearly another million hectares in Mpumalanga.

Former homeland territory that is held in trust is considered state land in terms of the audit. As a result, KwaZulu-Natal is almost exactly 50% owned by the state, through the Ingonyama Trust which holds traditional land.

In Mpumalanga, state ownership makes up 25% of the total land of the province, and in the North West the government holds 23%. The lowest level of government holding was found to be in the Northern Cape, where only 5% of land is counted as state-owned.

Greater black ownership
The findings are the result of a long-awaited audit of land on behalf of the department of rural development and land reform, which some years ago had to admit it did not know how much land was held by the state. In the context of a continuing fierce debate on land reform and the responsibilities of various parties to ensure greater black ownership, that lack of data caused significant headaches.

Now, however, the government is fairly confident it knows what it owns.

"We visited 1.15-million land parcels across the country, that would be land registered in the name of national, provincial and local government [as well as] parastatals … " said Riba.

The audit, which is not yet available in full, could not determine the demographics of land owners. Neither foreign ownership nor the race of owners is available in databases, said Riba, but "we will pursue that".

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