The Landscape

KB.L provides an introductory tour of the South African land reform landscape. We explore how all the different rural and urban land settings are connected. We introduce what we know (and acknowledge what we don’t know) about who owns which land. We explore the complex issues and conflicting priorities which have to be addressed to enable citizens to access land and natural resources on an equitable basis.

Through the Land Portal country insights series, you can also access in depth profiles and timelines for a growing collection of countries in Africa and across the global South.

On the farms

Commercial farmland comprises 67% of the total land area of South Africa.

2,7 million people, comprising more than 750 000 households (5.28% of South Africa’s population), live in farm areas throughout South Africa, according to the 2011 Census.

We explore the issues facing people who live on farms, work as farm workers or labour tenants.

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Act 9 Rural Areas

There are 23 rural areas in four provinces (Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State) where land historically reserved for people of mixed Khoisan and European descent is held in trust by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. Residents in these areas do not hold title deeds to their residential plots.

Learn more about how these areas came into being, where they are, and the Transformation of Certain Rural Areas Act.

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The former bantustans

There are some 17 million people living in the former “independent” and “self-governing bantustans” which were reincorporated into the nine new provinces following the democratic transition in 1994.

The land rights of those living in these areas remain undocumented and insecure. Post-apartheid legislation continues to entrench the old homeland boundaries and the reinforce old relations of power between chiefs, local elites and ordinary citizens. Although customary law norms are dynamic and have adapted in places to recognise the land needs of households headed by single women, land rights and access of women remain constrained and vulnerable in many settings. This also reflects that women are often excluded from participating in customary courts.

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"We don’t subscribe to simplified single stories around land. We seek to connect present and past. We locate the origins of contested contemporary land debates within their histories to reveal the complex forces shaping the South African landscape."

Ingonyama Trust land

The Ingonyama Trust was established through a deal between the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party just before the democratic transition in 1994. The Trust was established to manage 2.8 million ha of land owned by the former homeland government of KwaZulu. This land vests in the Ingonyama, King Zwelithini, as trustee on behalf of members of communities defined in the Act.

The Act was amended in 1997 to create the KwaZulu-Natal Ingonyama Trust Board to administer the land in accordance with the Act.

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Land acquired through land reform

Land has primarily been purchased by government through the restitution and redistribution programmes. Much of this land has been transferred to beneficiaries although a significant portion remains in state ownership. By 2016/17 4.7 million ha had been acquired through redistribution and 3.4 million ha through restitution totalling 8.13 million ha or 9.9% of commercial farmland. The mechanisms and approach to land acquisition have varied according to the different phases and shifting priorities of the land reform programme. Since 1994 the land reform programme has gone through three identifiable phases.

Explore the issues and challenges facing those who have accessed land through the restitution and redistribution programmes.

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Urban land and housing

South African cities face enormous challenges. Despite the provision of more than two million houses and associated services the fundamentals of the apartheid city remain intact.

“However, in a real sense one can at best speak of the (post) apartheid city in a way that recognises how little has changed spatially…In the absence of apartheid legislation, the technocratic clarity about who has a right to the city and who does not has fallen away. It is clear how political will (and lack thereof), private capital and often the political collusion of political power and private capital are mostly determining urban spatial arrangements.” Stephan F. de Beer.

Learn more about the struggles of the urban landless – people living in informal settlements, hostels and the inner city; and the outcomes of housing and human settlements policies and the provision of subsidised housing and serviced sites.

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A project of Phuhlisani NPC supported by Absa. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. International License.