The real state of land ownership - AfriForum

Report says the state owns a substantial proportion of ECape, KZN, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and NWest

AfriForum reveals new information on land ownership, as well as memorandum to international community on expropriation without compensation

The civil rights organisation AfriForum will send a delegation to the USA next week to launch the first leg of the organisation’s international campaign against expropriation without compensation. The organisation plans on meeting with government representatives, research institutions, the media and potential investors abroad. AfriForum plans on mobilising the international community to pressurise the South African government into setting aside its expropriation policy.

The memorandum that AfriForum will use to this effect was made available to the media today. According to the memorandum, Government’s attempts to expropriate land without compensation have a clear racist motive. “Furthermore, Government’s viewpoint on land reform presents three core problems,” says Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO of AfriForum. These problems are:

1. The policy is based on a distortion of South Africa’s history.

2. The allegation that there is a great demand for land is false – especially regarding agricultural land.

3. In terms of Government’s interference in land ownership so far, results have been catastrophic. 

The distortion of the past relates to the assumption that white land owners inevitably obtained land through oppression, whereas most of the land owned by white people was legally bought. There were also cases in the 1800s where the Voortrekkers took possession of uninhabited land. Furthermore, it is true that conflict between white and black tribes indeed occurred during the Great Trek. However, the fact is swept under the carpet that conflicts for the purpose of conquering land had at that stage been a common practice among black tribes.

Regarding the demand for agricultural land, AfriForum today revealed that 57,8% of land claims up to now had been for urban land – and not agricultural land. It is also common knowledge that 93% of people who submitted land claims indicated that they preferred financial compensation rather than land restitution. The Institute of Race Relations also found that only 1% of people in South Africa believe that land reform would improve their lives.

In terms of the third problem, Government conceded that more than 90% of farms that the State had transferred to black owners had failed. Although the South African government has already spent more than R45 billion on land reform, only 6,3% of land procured by the State has been converted to private ownership.

AfriForum also released a report titled Land in South Africa – A Geospatial Perspective. This report was compiled by Burgert Gildenhuys, Executive Director of MapAble. The report reveals the following:

1. 24,03% of land in South Africa is state-owned. This land includes land owned by the State, former homelands and parts of former homelands, as well as areas under nature reservation. It can be split per province as follows:

Eastern Cape: 34,65%

Free State: 6,5%

Gauteng: 19,90%

KwaZulu-Natal: 52,32%

Limpopo: 42,66%

Mpumalanga: 32,72%

Northern Cape: 11,20%

North West: 31,99%

Western Cape: 15,59%

Total: 24,03%

2.  Data on land ownership is deficient and should be corrected if an informed decision is to be taken.

3.  The land issue in South Africa is linked to race. The Land Audit Report 2017 attempted to link land to race. This attempt was inaccurate, however, as data provided by the Department of Home Affairs no longer includes the race of citizens of the country. 

Read the report here: AfriForum – Land and land reform. - PDF

Text of memorandum:

1. Expropriation without compensation

Once the ruling ANC had adopted a policy that land should be expropriated without compensation at its 54th National Conference in December 2017, Cyril Ramaphosa, its newly elected President, said that taking the land owned by white farmers should increase food production and that “South Africa could turn into the ultimate paradise if the implementation of the policy of expropriation of land without compensation leads to higher food production”. He added: “We can make this country the Garden of Eden.”1 On 27 February 2018, the South African Parliament adopted a motion that a process had to be started to amend Section 25 (the property rights clause) in the South African Constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation.2

“(A)lmost 400 years ago, a criminal by the name of Jan van Riebeeck landed in our native land and declared an already occupied land by the native population as a no-man’s land,” argued Julius Malema, Leader of the EFF, as he introduced the motion in Parliament, which was supported by the ruling ANC. “Van Riebeeck, a first descendent of the Dutch to arrive in the Cape would later lead a full blown colonial genocide, anti-black land dispossession criminal project, arguing that simply because our people could not produce title deeds, this land, that they have been living in for more than a thousand years, was not their own.”3 He continued: “The time for reconciliation is over; now is the time for justice.”4

David Mabuza, Deputy President, threatened white farmers with a “violent takeover” should they not volunteer some of their land.5

Other than the clear racist motivation that serves as a foundation to this motion, here are at least three major problems with the South African government’s stance on land reform. The first is that it is based on a distorted perception of history. The second is that there is no real “hunger for land” – in fact, the vast majority of black people in South Africa have no interest in owning agricultural land. The third is that where the government has intervened with regard to landownership, it has had catastrophic results. But before these issues are addressed, the dishonesty of the South African government regarding expropriation of property should be pointed out.

2. Dishonesty regarding expropriation

President Cyril Ramaphosa described his pilgrimage to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January 2018 as “very very successful”. The main aim of this trip was to encourage international investors to invest in South Africa.6 Less than a month after the wooing of international investors under the assumption that property rights will be protected in South Africa, the South African Parliament decided that the South African Constitution would have to be amended to allow for the expropriation of property without compensation.

It is argued that this policy must be executed so that more black people can own property. It is however evident from the policy documents of both the ruling ANC and its supporting EFF, that the intention is for the state to own the land, not private individuals. This point is further proven by the fact that only 6,3% of land that had been bought by the state, has been transferred to private ownership.7

Furthermore, the motion to expropriate property without compensation is based on a flawed state-driven land audit that is soaked with fabrications and methodological errors.

3. Flawed perception of history

It is often argued that land reform had to be executed in order to correct historical injustices. While it is certainly true that a variety of injustices occurred throughout South Africa’s history, it should be pointed out that the history of land ownership in South Africa is more complex than that which is regularly argued by political leaders. The truth is that white owned land was acquired in three different ways, namely occupation of empty land, acquiring of land through negotiation and conquest.

The focus of this report is not to provide a historic account of events. Two comments should however be made regarding the obtaining of land through conquest. The first is that it was a common practice among black tribes at the time.8 The second is that obtaining of land through conquest was not that common among white people who settled in South Africa. The majority of land was either acquired through the occupation of empty land, or through negotiations with local black tribes.9

4. No “hunger for land”

The Restitution of Land Rights Act10 allowed for people to institute claims for land of which they had been deprived of as a result of racially discriminatory practices such as forced removals. By the time the cut-off date was reached in 1998, about 80 000 land claims had been filed. The government was not satisfied and opened the process again in 2014, claiming that they believed that 400 000 land claims would be filed in total.11 A little known fact is that 57,8% of land claims were for urban land, as opposed to rural land.12 Furthermore, what came as a source of frustration to the government was the fact that 93% of those who had instituted land claims indicated that they did not really have an interest in owning agricultural land and that they would prefer to receive money as compensation. The government responded angrily to this, stating that it was “hurting land reform”. Bheki Mbili, in charge of Land Restitution Support in KwaZulu-Natal, explained what black land claimants say:

“Many of the claimants already have small pieces of land and some don’t even live in those areas where their forefathers were removed from. Some say to us that they don’t want more land than they already own and the risk involved if they ask us to buy them those huge pieces of land that will go out of production.”

He then explained why this was a problem for the government:

“The problem with this is that if you look at the outcome of first phase of the land audit, the amount of land that is private land particularly that is owned by white people in this country is still in the region of between 70 and 80%. We can only change the land ownership pattern if people opt for restoration. If they opt for financial compensation the pattern stays the same. If you take the money you don’t dent the problem that currently exists.”13

Notwithstanding the fact that the figures of white landownership provided by Mbili are inflated (at least 34,5% of South African land is black-owned),14 the problem is therefore that the South African government is dedicated to reducing the amount of land owned by white people, while this is not regarded as a priority by the majority of black South Africans.

This is also evident from the rapid pace at which urbanisation among black South Africans is taking place. Black South Africans, more than any other group, seem to want to live in cities, rather than in rural areas. From 2000 to 2015, the population of so-called black Africans in Johannesburg increased by 76,7%. The corresponding number for Cape Town is 122,4% and for Pretoria it is 71,6%. During the same time frame, the number of white people in Johannesburg declined by 8,1% and in Cape Town by 0,7%. In Pretoria, the number of white people increased by a mere 2,7%.15

With regard to the intention to enter agriculture, Statistics South Africa (SSA) found that only 2,8% of all university students enrolled to study agricultural science and similar courses.16

Furthermore, when the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) surveyed South Africans and asked them what they believed had to be done to improve their lives, a mere 1% indicated that they believed that land reform would improve their lives.17 

5. Failure of land reform

According to the South African government, about 9% – almost 8 million hectares – of agricultural land has already been distributed to black African people.18 However, it was admitted that more than 90% of farms distributed by the state to black African communities failed and usually reverted very quickly either to subsistence farming or to squatter camps.19 A study by the Land Bank found that approximately 4 000 farms had been acquired since 1994 at a cost of R10 billion, of which only 10% were productive.20 While the South African government had already spent more than R45 billion on land reform, only 6,3% of the land that had been acquired by the state had been transferred into private land.21

6. Conclusion

Land reform is a political ploy, a policy that is rigged for failure and one that only serves to escalate the friction that already exists with regard to South Africa’s food producers.

It is clear that the South African government’s push for expropriation without compensation is founded in racist sentiment and a distortion of history. It is also clear that the so-called hunger for land is largely non-existent – particularly with regard to agricultural land. Furthermore, it is clear that land reform has already been disastrous to the extent that it has been executed in South Africa.

While the primary targets of this policy are clearly white farmers, the primary victims might just as well be the very people that the South African government claims to represent.

1 News24. (7 January 2018). Taking land should increase food production – Ramaphosa.

2 News24. (27 February 2018). National Assembly adopts motion on land expropriation without compensation.

3 Hansard (Unrevised). National Assembly. (27 February 2017). pp. 25–26.

4 Hansard (Unrevised). National Assembly. (27 February 2017). p. 28.

5 IOL. (7 April 2018). Mabuza appeals to white farmers to share their land.

6 Fin24. (28 January 2018). Ramaphosa wows Davos money.

7 Interview with Johann Bornman. (19 April 2018).

8 Changuoin, L. and Steenkamp, B. (2011). Omstrede Land. Pretoria: Protea Boekhuis. p. 30.

9 Changuoin, L. and Steenkamp, B. (2011). Omstrede Land. Pretoria: Protea Boekhuis.

10 No. 22 of 1994.

11 The Citizen. (10 July 2014). 400 000 Valid land claims remain.

12 Agri Development Solutions database. Interview with Johann Bornman. (19 April 2018).

13 TimesLive. (30 May 2017). Land claimants want the cash not the land, says KZN Land Claims Commission.

14 (4 March 2017). Landbougrond in SA: 34,5% in swart besit.

15 Institute of Race Relations. (2017). South Africa Survey 2017. pp. 28–29.

16 News24. (26 February 2017). Land reform is a political ploy.

17 Report by the IRR. (February 2017). Race Relations in South Africa: Reasons for Hope 2017. p. 3.

18 TimesLive. (10 March 2018). Land debate is clouded by misrepresentation and lack of data.

19 Mail & Guardian. (2 March 2010). Land reform: Use it or lose it, says minister. See also Johnson, R. W. (2015). How Long Will South Africa Survive?

20 Source

21 Interview with Johann Bornman. (19 April 2018).


Statement issued by Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO, AfriForum, 24 April 2018