Land audit does not tell us all we need to know

2018-02-11 05:54

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

The land audit undertaken by government could potentially be a valuable tool for understanding the patterns of ownership and acquisition in South Africa. It could also help us to come up with solutions. Regrettably, this may not be the case.

Much has been made of the apparently paltry landholdings of black South Africans, at 1.2% of farmland and 7% of formally registered urban land. Taken at face value, this suggests that neither government’s land reform initiatives, nor market-based transactions, have had any noticeable impact on black people’s asset base.

This is questionable. The most notable finding of the audit is just how much is not known. That the audit could not identify a racial identity for the owners of two thirds of South Africa’s land shows just how complicated this issue is.

Indeed, we would argue that it is precisely a lack of property rights for black people in the past – and hence the lack of title – that understates the landholdings of black South Africans. This has been compounded by government policy in recent years, which has actually been to deny ownership to the beneficiaries of land redistribution schemes, and instead allow them access to the land as tenants. It is a tragic irony that large parts of our population continue to be denied the benefits of secure property ownership.

More than this, if land is to be a means of livelihood and dignity, then a focus on size and percentages of the country’s landmass is counterproductive. If acreage was the key concern, then great progress could be achieved simply by buying up large tracts in the arid Northern Cape. Simple. But – for good reason – government has not tended to seek properties for land reform purposes there. More fertile and better-watered lands in the eastern part of the country make much better prospects for farming.

Agri SA’s study of land ownership patterns found that some 46% of the agricultural potential of the country was owned by black people and by the state. This suggests a far more positive picture for emerging farmers than the land audit.

Unfortunately, whatever the merits of its data, the land audit’s reported recommendations would do little to advance land reform. Nationalising all land would simply reduce all land owners, and prospective land owners, to tenants of the state. No farmer – black or white, emerging or established – nor presumably urban residents, would really own their land. This would perpetuate some of the worst features of our history.

What South Africa needs is a rationally designed and properly funded land reform programme that understands the complexities and nuances of land and agriculture in South Africa. It must be a plan that empowers landowners, especially emergent ones, with the secure property rights that they have long been denied.

Corrigan is policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations


What is the solution to South Africa’s land reform problem?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword LAND and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read more on:    land

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.