Property & Wealth

Land redistribution’s big unknowns need interrogation

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Solid progress has been made since 1994 with land reform, as in redistribution, but from various quarters calls for accelerated ‘restitution’ have been made lately.

To, however, properly judge how much has already been achieved and how much still needs to be done, some basic facts need to be established first. This turns out to be no simple task.

The first question that needs to be answered, as best as one can under prevailing circumstances, is: how are the country’s 122 081 300 hectares distributed at present? Put differently, who owns or controls how much of the land in terms of the various population groups, and what are the criteria used by those calling for redistribution?

Existing picture

The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) has done sterling work in this field with research and with generating commensurate reports based on their findings. Their “Fact Check No. 1; Land Reform” certainly makes for interesting reading.

It addresses head-on an overview of the distribution of land in South Africa. In the process two key, often over-simplified accounts or misrepresentations many of us accept on face value as true, are interrogated.

These two misrepresentations are stated by the report as: 

  • “In 1994, as a result of colonial dispossession and apartheid, 87% of the land was owned by whites and only 13% by blacks. By 2012 post-apartheid land reform had transferred 7.95 million hectares into black ownership which is equivalent, at best, to 7.5% of formerly white-owned land. Whites as a social category still own most  of the country’s land and redressing racial imbalances in land ownership is land reform’s most urgent priority”; and
  • “The post-apartheid state currently owns a quarter of the country and redistributing this should be land reform’s priority. When this is added to the 7.95 million hectares already acquired through land reform, plus the significant though unknown amount of land blacks are buying privately, the discrepancies between white and black ownership are sharply reduced and in some provinces may even be equitable.

The PLAAS report suggests that, based on their research, the reality is closer to the following:

  • 67% of the land is Commercial Agricultural Land under predominantly ‘white’ control;
  • 15% represents the Communal Areas, now mostly state-owned and under ‘black’ and government control;
  • 10% consists of other State Land; and
  • 8% is the remainder which includes the Urban Areas of which metros constitute 2% and non-metro urban areas 6%.

 This all goes to show that a lot of work still needs to be done in understanding the true extent of land ownership in South Africa. For one, the last category of urban areas needs some scrutiny in terms of property ownership.

In subsequent columns we will review other sources of reference on this highly emotive subject.

by Eve van Basten

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