Who owns the land?

South Africa. Source: Google Earth
South Africa. Source: Google Earth

Getting to the bottom of land ownership in South Africa is not a straightforward business. Statistics are incomplete and, despite a state land audit, little is known about the racial make-up of land ownership in the country.

While an audit conducted last year by the department of rural development and land reform showed that 79% of the country’s land may still be in private hands, it did not reveal whether those hands were black or white.

Annelize Crosby of agricultural industry association AgriSA said national statistics on the number of commercial black farmers were simply not available, but some provincial agricultural unions had carried out land audits of their own.

Two unions, in KwaZulu-Natal and in the Free State, have now completed their audits, which attempt to give an idea of who owns how much.

The KwaZulu-Natal agricultural union’s research shows that 46.29% of land in the province is fully black owned and 2.3% is partially black owned. According to their statistics, 15.6% of land is white owned and the ownership of about 35.8% of the province’s land is unknown.

These statistics include land in the former Bantustan of KwaZulu, which is 100% black owned.

While the state – including traditional authorities – owns half of the land in KwaZulu-Natal, the department of rural development and land reform estimates that the state owns 845 084ha in the Free State – just 7% of all land in the province.

The state audit found that 91% of all land in the Free State was privately owned and a further 2% could not be accounted for.

Free State Agriculture, the largest farmer representative organisation in that province, contracted the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, an independent university-based research network, to conduct their own investigation into land ownership in the province.

Their comprehensive report showed that little progress had been made with land reform. It found that 93% of the province was used for farming and 86.39% of the agricultural land in the Free State was white owned.

Only 2.96% of agricultural land in the province is currently held by black people. These farmers have been able to acquire only 148 423ha of land on the open market and have access to 4 827ha through equity schemes.

Only 1.71% of land has been acquired through the various permutations of the land reform programme, while 1.25% has been acquired privately.

However, the Free State’s former Bantustan of QwaQwa was not included in the farmland audit.

A total of 209 000ha of land in the Free State has been transferred through various land reform programmes to projects for which the state still holds the title deeds. The audit also found that only 5 771ha has been transferred through restitution programmes.

This conflicts with the 55 700ha figure shown by the land department.

The most likely explanation for the anomaly was that the deeds for the land had not yet been transferred to the restituted owners and were still in the name of the previous owners, the report said.

Another factor could be that most of the restitution claims actually settled in the Free State were claims on land in the former homeland, which was not audited by Free State Agriculture.

The Free State has received R348 million, or 1.3%, of the total national restitution spending to date, with only 41 claims against rural land across the entire province, indicating that restitution had not been taking place in the province up to now.

In addition, the department revealed that 51 185 had been “approved for acquisition” in the restitution programme, but only 6 333ha or 12.4% had actually been “transferred to beneficiaries” in the province.

The report also labelled the transformation status of 10% of land in the province as either “unsure” or “unknown”.

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