by Piet Coetzer

Facts belie perceptions of land reform

State does not have enough land for reform needs

Land reform.jpg

Arguments that state land should be used to meet land redistribution targets are misleading. Very little state land is suitable for this purpose. Official data from 2002 shows that only 2% of the total of 12.6 million ha of state-owned land is suitable for land reform, according to an fact sheet just published by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) of the University of the Western Cape.  

The Institute has just released the first of its new new 'Fact Check' series, which offers “everyone an opportunity to get to the facts about land reform quickly.” Data is presented as user friendly to make key statistics from the latest research readily available and easily readable.

One of the first fact sheets under the title Not enough state land to meet land reform targets, by Karin Kleinbooi and Alex Dubb, notes that even if all 12.6 million hectares (ha) of state owned land was redistributed, it will only meet 50% of the land reform target.

Land reform aims to redistribute 30%, or 24.6 million ha, of privately owned commercial agricultural land. By 2011, 6.2 million ha had been transferred through restitution claims and redistribution.

Around 2% of state land, or 675 449 ha, is suitable for redistribution. This amounts to 3% of the target of 24.6 million ha. It is clear that very little state land is available for redistribution.

However, one form of state land, municipal commonage, can make a significant contribution to the livelihoods of some of the rural poor. Grazing land, fields and wild resources on municipal commonages supplement rural household incomes and enhance household food security. In three Eastern Cape towns, for example, the incomes of over 10% of households would drop below the poverty line if contributions from commonage were to be excluded.

Nearly half a million hectares of new commonage were bought for land reform between 1994 and 2003, accounting for 31% of all land reform purchases in 2003. Most of this was in the semi-arid Northern Cape.

Municipal commonage in the Free State in 2003 comprised around 113 000 hectares.

After 2003 commonage land was de-emphasised by the land affairs department. At present it is unclear how much commonage is available for poor households seeking access to land. Partly because agriculture is not designated as a municipal function, many municipalities are administratively under-prepared for pro-poor commonage management.

Reliable and up-to-date data on state land ownership is still not available nineteen years after democracy, and the release of government’s current land audit is eagerly awaited.

The lack of accurate information on municipal land is a particular problem. It is unclear, for example, whether or not there is scope to significantly increase the amount of land made available to poor rural households in the form of municipal commonage.

In the absence of reliable data, arguments that government should target state land for redistribution rather than privately owned land cannot be definitively refuted once and for all.

Another problem arising from incomplete data is the lack of clarity in relation to how much land is being held by government, and then leased to land reform beneficiaries, through the Pro-active Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS).


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