State controlled land in four maps

March 6, 2018

Since the motion on land expropriation was passed in parliament on Tuesday 27 February 2018, many opinion pieces, perspectives, facts and figures set social media and the press alight. Deep routed ideological and moral arguments are evoking emotionally charged responses of all kinds. At the root of any argument should however be credible and verifiable facts working towards Informed decision-making based on a common understanding of any given issue.


There are two important reports from government that currently informs the land issue. The first is the Land Audit booklet by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) dated 2013 which sets the extent of state land (registered and unregistered) at 17 061 822 ha or 14% of total South Africa. The second is the Land Audit Report of 2017 which attempts to show private land ownership by race gender and nationality. The report puts private land ownership at 93 956 125 ha or 77.03% of the total area of South Africa (121 973 200 ha). According to the report land ownership is based on parcels registered in the deeds office, however, “ownership” is not defined in the report. If ownership means freehold in terms of a title deed, then this figure is doubtful.


This blog shows the spatial distribution and extent of land under control of the state and organs of state. The extent of land controlled by the state is unpacked in four steps. Firstly, land that is directly state owned and that are listed in spatial data (2013) of DRDLR, secondly tribal (or traditional) land not included in the DRDLR data, thirdly the remaining remnants of the ex-homeland areas not included under the previous two categories. These land portions were expropriated for incorporation into the homelands and transferred to institutions like South African Development Trust and ex-homeland governments. The last category includes the protected areas affected by the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998) and represents national parks and nature reserves under the control of state entities (mainly SANPARKS) or provincial governments.


The map below shows the extent of state land in South Africa as mapped from 2013 spatial data obtained from DRDLR. It sets state land at 13 357 235 ha or 11.0% of total land. Main categories being; land used for agriculture and fisheries (30.2%), residential purposes (17.0%), conservation and leisure (25.4%) and 7.9% of the land is classified as undeveloped. These figures only include farms and farm portions and exclude erven or urban properties. The extent of state land in urban areas is not available for all provinces. However, in Gauteng the state owns 185 113 properties which amounts to 25 819 ha.


The next category of land to be considered is traditional or tribal land not included in state land data. Tribal land is not available in an open market nor is freehold ownership allowed. If the extent of tribal land, not included in state land, is added to the equation, the total land not privately-owned then amounts to 26 976 657 ha or 22.1% of the total land in South Africa. It implies that there are 13 619 421 ha of tribal land not recognised as state land.



The third element to be considered is the portion of ex-homelands not included in the above. These portions might be a bit problematic in the sense that it is land that was designated and or expropriated for incorporation into the homelands. This land was transferred to homeland governments prior to 1994. A total of 17 083 490 ha must then be added to the previous total covering state land and the remainder of tribal land. The total land controlled by the state then amounts to 44 060 147 ha or 36.1% of the total South Africa.



The last category that does not appear in any land audit is formal protected areas which include national parks and nature reserves under control of provincial governments. These areas are afforded special protection in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998). Although there are continuous efforts to involve local communities in these areas, it is obviously not areas designated for private ownership or control and must therefor be removed from the land pool. These areas add another 8 050 643 ha to the equation and brings the total land under state control to 52 110 790 ha or 42.7% of all land in South Africa



Working with these figures, it is difficult to reconcile it with the figure quoted by government of private land ownership at 93 956 125 ha or 77.03% of the total area of South Africa. Somewhere there is about a 24 million ha discrepancy in the equation that can have a significant impact on the land debate. The figures are however unimportant in a land nationalisation debate but very significant for those concerned with upholding private property rights and resolving land restitution in a fair and equitable way. As a post script, one should note that, notwithstanding property rights, the state can exercise full control over the use of land through the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013 (SPLUMA).



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State controlled land in four maps

March 6, 2018

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