Credible Land Reform Outcome Requires Reliable, Accurate Information - Weekend Argus

30 June 2018 - Julius Malema’s farm in Limpopo is not black-owned and nor is Cabinet minister and ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe’s son Buyambo’s 521-hectare farm outside Elliot – not, at least, according to the government’s land audit, because they are owned by trusts or companies and supposedly cannot be identified racially.

Mike Coleman

Julius Malema’s farm in Limpopo is not black-owned and nor is Cabinet minister and ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe’s son Buyambo’s 521-hectare farm outside Elliot – not, at least, according to the government’s land audit, because they are owned by trusts or companies and supposedly cannot be identified racially.

 This cuts to the heart of the challenge of land reform because, while it is understandable that land is debated with emotion and is thus often subject to passion, bias or distortion, if South Africa is going to make any progress, it will need a generally accepted factual foundation.

 So far, the picture is partial and sketchy. In the face of gaps and uncertainties, this article attempts to provide a national picture of land distribution and ownership.

 What the Expropriation without Compensation debate has revealed is that all participants are handicapped by the paucity of facts about land.

 It is now common cause that the government’s two land audits (of state land in 2015, and privately owned land in 2017) are full of errors and are unreliable. Unbelievably, the 2017 audit even recommends basing the way forward for land reform on the 1936 Native Trust and Land Act.

 The errors have been compounded by participants in the debate cherry-picking figures to match their arguments, or by sloppily misquoting, or misreading, confusing categories in the audit report. Black land ownership, for instance, is either 2%, 4%, 8%, 10%, or unknowable, depending on who you listen to.

 If the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform read her own Land Audit she would see that her stated “4% of the land” owned by blacks, is actually 4% of agricultural land owned by private individuals, and amounts to only 1% of South Africa. And what happened to the 8% of land distributed through land reform, according to her predecessor, Minister Gugile Nkwinti?

 What no-one has answered are the essential questions that are crucial to sensible discussion.

 These are: how much state land is there; how much is available for land reform; how much land is black-owned or occupied and therefore not available; how many white commercial farms are there that might be expropriated without escalating the cost of living or endangering food security; overall, how much land might be expropriated for distribution to black beneficiaries, and where is it?

Let’s look at state land first. Government has tried to divert attention from state land in both its audits: for example, the area of state land in the Eastern Cape is reported as 9%, when in fact it is 36% of the province. Land owned by State-Owned Enterprises such as Transnet and SANRAL are omitted from the audits and remain unknown. Ingonyama Trust Land and municipal land are included under state land in the audit, but, legally, are not state land, creating further confusion.

 One can only presume that the facts are politically embarrassing.

 Recent parliamentary questions to ministers sought to elicit these figures, but failed to get a full picture. And it emerges that South Africa still maintains vestiges of the apartheid-era system with Rural Development & Land Reform answering for black land and the Department of Public Works for white land and other national land. What’s more, getting the full picture of land in South Africa requires responses from the ministers of agriculture, environment, public enterprises, and local government.

 Cobbled together from different sources, the following rounded figures emerge:

 State Land                                         Millions of hectares

         Communal land   ………………... 13

         Ingonyama Trust  ………………... 3

         Sanparks & Prov Parks …………. 6

         State Domestic Use………………. 2.5

         State Agric land ………………….. 0.5

         State-owned Enterprises ……….       Not known

         Untransferred Land Reform …… 2

         Total      ……………………………….. 27 million hectares (or 22% of South Africa’s land surface)


To this sum, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform has now added 4 million hectares of a new and mystifying land category described as “exclusive rights” to communal and Ingonyama land.

 State Land

 Of the 27 million hectares, 2.5 might be regarded as available for redistribution to beneficiaries, most by simple transfer of title deed by government from state to beneficiary. 

 This would be by far the most immediate, efficient route for land redistribution, but requires a reversal of policy, which – since 2009 – has been to refuse title deeds to anyone. State land might well be subject to Expropriation without Compensation as a way to get government moving.

 What about black-owned or –occupied land? This is more complex and wider in area than the land audit makes apparent.

 It includes

·         Communal land rights holders occupying 13 million hectares nationally under customary allocation, permissions to occupy, quitrent, and, increasingly, illegal sales by traditional leaders;

·         Ingonyama Trust Land in KwaZulu-Natal (In the Land Audits, this is incorrectly categorised as State Land), amounting to 2.7 million hectares;

·         Community Property Associations, created for land reform but not given commonhold title to their land, amounting to 1.8 million hectares. (Examples are those in Dwesa-Cwebe and Mkhambati);

·         State Agric land not transferred (40 years in limbo on “caretaker agreements” and leases after expropriation by apartheid government) – an example being Peddie South/Mnqushwa;

·         Quitrent title holders numbering 70 000 on approximately 210 000 hectares in Transkei (not deemed freehold under Act 112), and not mentioned in the land audit at all;

·         More than 4 000 white-owned farms bought by the department of rural development for land reform, but leased (not transferred) to beneficiaries, who have no title;

·         Black-owned family trusts and companies, which are part of the 61% of land that is not racially categorized. The number and area they cover are not known;

·         Community Based Organisations, which account for 3.5 million hectares, an unknown portion of which is black owned, as this is also part of the 61% of land not racially categorized; and

·         Black-owned land – 1.3 million hectares according to the government land audit, but 4.3 million hectares transferred/purchased by previously disadvantages people, according to the AgriSA audit.   

 At least 5 million hectares is owned by Coloureds and 2 million by Indians, which may be included under black-owned land, depending on who is doing the classification or addition. (The audit refers to “Africans” not blacks).

 In urban areas, there are reportedly over one million RDP householders without the security of tenure promised them in the Constitution, as they still have no title deeds.

 The total of black-owned and black-occupied land is, therefore, at least 21 000 000 hectares, or 16% of South Africa’s surface area, a considerable area of land, which (whatever the form of black tenure) is certainly not owned by whites.

 We are still left with critical unanswered questions of fact: How many white farmers are there? How many black farmers? Where has the 30% target been met? And 30% of what?

 For the purposes of debating land reform, and, more recently, Expropriation without Compensation, it is surely essential to know how many farms and farmers there are – but no-one knows for sure.

 So the big unanswered question is: How many commercial farmers are there, on how many operational farms? Certainly, there are not 527 422 as the audit appears superficially to suggest.

 Estimates range between 28 000 and 50 000, but there appears to be no up-to-date source. The Department of Agriculture’s data is for 1991. The most authoritative is the StatsSA survey of commercial farms in 2007, giving 39 966 commercial farms of which 35 303 were individual, family and partner-owned farms. But if there were 35 000 ten years ago and the trend has been downwards for many years, what is it now?

The survey further showed that more than half the farms had income below R500 000. Unfortunately, Stats SA has not been able to secure funding for this activity in the past 10 years so we do not know how many commercial farms there are in 2018, let alone how many are white-owned.

The government’s 30% target is set in hectares, not number of farms, so what is the area of white-owned farms? Again, we do not know. The recent land audit says 26 663 144 hectares of land is privately owned by white individuals (22% of South Africa). But it leaves 61% of private land out of the results, this being the sum it has not been possible to racially categorise because it is owned by companies, trusts and corporations.

Whether State-Owned Enterprises fall into this group, we do not know.

At a guess, the ‘race unknown’ trusts and companies may be owned in the same proportions as racially categorized private individual ownership, but no-one knows for sure. 

 If we estimate crudely, for want of any other method, that the racial division of the 61% is the same as that for individually owned land, then white-owned companies, trusts and so on own a further 37 million hectares. Added to the 26.6 million hectares of individually white-owned land, this comes to approximately 64 million hectares, or 52% of South Africa.

 Finally, if we put together what we do know with estimates of what is missing, the racial land ownership picture, nationally, may look approximately like this:

 National Land Ownership – Racial Estimate (millions ha)

 Govt State Land ………………………………   11               10%

Black-occupied communal state land        …...     16                   13%

Black-owned (including untransferred) ...    7                     6%    

Govt Exclusive Rights? ...............................   4                    3%

White-owned …………………………………..  64               52%

Coloured & Indian ……………………………  17                14%

Urban (Municipal?) …………………………..           3                       2%

 TOTAL  ………………………………………… 122              100%


National Land Ownership Racial Estimate (millions ha)


What is clear, however, is that in the absence of accurate factual data, what the countryside ‘may look like’ in terms of racial ownership is a shaky basis on which to develop the credible land reform process South Africa now needs.

 Mike Coleman is a Land, Rural Development and Agricultural Planning consultant based in the Eastern Cape. This article was commissioned by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.   

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