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Government land reform surprise- South Africa

Land redistribution and restitution efforts by the African National Congress government between 1994 and 2017/18 have covered 12,1 million hectares, an area far greater than commonly believed.

This was confirmed by data provided by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in reply to a question from Freedom Front leader, Dr Pieter Groenewald MP.

Groenewald had asked for detailed figures, by province, on the extent covered by five different modes of land restitution and redistribution up until the end of 2017/18: 1.) land restitution, 2.) the 36% of cases where land restitution beneficiaries opted for financial compensation rather than the restoration of a specific piece of land; 3.) land redistribution; 4.) tenancy reform; and 5.) the disposal of state-owned agricultural land.

In her answer Minister said that 3,5m hectares had been physically transferred to land restitution beneficiaries, while beneficiaries opted for financial compensation in areas comprising a further 2,9 million hectares. This means that government’s land restitution efforts have covered an area totalling 6,41 million hectares. Government acquired a further 4,9 million hectares as part of its land redistribution efforts, while land tenure reform covered a further 782 487 hectares, and state-owned agricultural land disposal 39 901 hectares. The total came to 12 139 044 hectares nationally. See Table 1. In terms of size this is an area greater than the extent of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga or the North West and just short of the extent of the Free State, Limpopo, or the Western Cape.

The 39 901 hectare figure for disposal of state-owned land between 1994 and 2004 may be a significant under-estimate. Figures provided in government documents in 2003 and 2004 state that several hundred thousand hectares of such land had been redistributed post 1994 (see here and here.) It is possible however that these hectares were included in one of the other modes (land redistribution), in this reply.

Up until early last year government has generally tended to disclose figures for only (physical) land restitution (1), and land redistribution (2) when it came to tallying up the extent of its ‘land reform’ efforts. These had amounted to 8,2 million hectares by March 2018, just under 50% less than the full extent as set out in these latest figures, according to an earlier parliamentary reply.

In February 2018 the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform released its 2017 State Land Audit report on “Private Land Ownership by Race, Gender and Nationality”. This revealed, it claimed, that “Whites own 26 663 144 ha or 72% of the total 37 031 283 ha farms and agricultural holdings by individual landowners; followed by Coloured at 5 371 383 ha or 15%, Indians at 2 031 790 ha or 5%, Africans at 1 314 873 ha or 4%, other at 1 271 562 ha or 3%, and co-owners at 425 537 ha or 1%.”

ANC and EFF MPs in parliament now cited these figures in order to justify the lurch towards amending the Constitution to allow for land Expropriation Without Compensation in order to secure the “return of the land to the rightful owners, who are the indigenous Blacks and Africans in particular”. President Cyril Ramaphosa also cited them in the Financial Times claiming that “72 per cent of farms and agricultural holdings are owned by whites, 15 per cent by coloured citizens, 5 per cent by Indians, and 4 per cent by Africans.”

It is clearly not possible to reconcile the claim that black Africans only owned 1,3m hectares of agricultural land in SA with either the 16 million hectares of former homeland land in the country, or the 9,2 million hectares physically transferred to mostly black African beneficiaries through ‘land reform’. The trick used was that the figures were for individually-owned non-urban classes of land only. They therefore excluded, by definition: all state-owned land; communally-held former homeland land, land privately purchased by black Africans post-1994 through companies, closed corporations or trusts; and almost the entirety of government’s post-1994 land redistribution and restitution efforts.

Provincial breakdown

The province with the greatest area covered by government land ‘reform’ efforts has been the Northern Cape, followed by KwaZulu-Natal, followed by Mpumalanga and Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, North West, and then the Western Cape. See Table 1. Absolute numbers can be misleading here given that not all provinces are the same size (the Northern Cape is the largest by far) and nor did each province have a similar share of either predominantly white-owned commercial farmland post-1994, the land the ANC government has sought to racially redistribute, or former homeland land.

The areas and relevant proportions by province are set out in Table 2. Just under three quarters of commercial farmland lay in the provinces of the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Free State, while just under a quarter lay in KZN, Limpopo, the North West and Mpumalanga. Another relevant distinction is between land restitution for dispossessions that occurred post-1913 (which is tied to particular geographical areas), and land redistribution, which need not be.

Almost a quarter of physical land restitution has occurred in KZN, even though only 4,9% of commercial farmland was located in that province in 1996. Almost three quarters of land was physically restituted in the provinces of KZN, Limpopo the North West and Mpumalanga alone. The provincial breakdown of land redistribution was far more proportional. Nonetheless, overall 53.5% of land redistributed or restituted lay in these four eastern provinces. 

Tables on Site- Link above-


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