Land audit fails to set racial bounds

Published Sep 6, 2013


Johannesburg - Nearly 80 percent of South Africa’s land is privately owned and the government has not been able to determine the extent of black ownership of that land, whether it is owned by individuals, businesses or trusts.

The hitch in categorising ownership in racial terms was discovered earlier this year when the surveyor-general’s office in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform tried to correlate its data on 1.15 million parcels of land with data in the Department of Home Affairs.

A few months after its inquiry, the office was told that information on ethnicity was not available. Home Affairs said it had not carried out racial categorisation of the citizenry since 1994.

Yesterday surveyor-general Mmusa Riba said the title deed information, where it existed, also did not carry a racial categorisation requirement. Thus he could not work out how much of the private land – which amounted to 79 percent of all land – was owned by black or white entities.

Riba said his office had also approached the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission and the high courts to ascertain information about companies and trusts.

However, the racial categorisation was also not available from those sources.

“We could not get the information we wanted,” he said.

Title deeds also did not require racial categorisation although the Electronic Deeds Registration Bill was in the pipeline, which would require title deed holders to provide information on ethnicity once the legislation was passed.

Figures for how much land is owned by the state is still a matter of speculation. Riba said his office had worked out a “baseline figure” for state-owned land of just 14 percent.

Rural Development and Land Affairs Minister Gugile Nkwinti, in his State of the Nation debate speech in February, said it was likely that the state owned nearly 22 percent of land.

Riba said that the land parcel investigation found that 7 percent – or about 8.3 million hectares – of the land was unregistered. This land could belong either to the state or to private interests.

However, most of this land was in the Transkei and Ciskei, the former homelands.

A further land category that had not been surveyed was schools and clinics, which was all state land. A significant part of the Kruger National Park had not been surveyed, and this was state land. Thus the figure for state ownership that Nkwinti had suggested was roughly correct, Riba said.

In carrying out the land audit, the government’s intention has been to establish how much land is owned by the state and the private sector, as well as how much of that land is owned by black people.

The bulk of state land is in KwaZulu-Natal – which includes the Ngonyama trust lands.

Verified state land at this stage amounts to 17 million hectares out of South Africa’s total surface area of about 125 million hectares.

Nkwinti earlier said that the land redistribution process had favoured white farmers. They had been paid R10.8 billion for land acquired by the state while 71 292 working-class claimants had benefited by R6bn.

He reported that there was about 82 million hectares of agricultural land – most of it assumed to be in the hands of mainly white commercial farmers. The government has set the target of transferring 30 percent of this arable land to black people by 2014.

There are about 3 700 commercial farmers in the country and about 96 million hectares of land is privately owned.

DA rural development spokesman Kevin Mileham said: “The land audit process was meant to assist the state in its land restitution and reform programmes by outlining how much land is owned privately, by the state or communally.

“The redistribution of land will not be possible if ownership patterns are not known or state figures are unreliable.” - Business Report

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