South Africa - Context and Land Governance | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

Despite the achievement of Constitutional democracy in 1994, 'the land question' is at the heart of South Africa's struggles to overcome the cumulative legacies of nearly 350 years of white minority rule. The emotive quality of land policies evokes painful legacies fuelled by disappointments with the official land reform programme ushered in by the new Constitution of 1996. There is broad agreement that land reform programmes have not fulfilled their aims to significantly redistribute land and productive agrarian capacity, strengthen land tenure for the majority, and settle the restitution claims of victims of land dispossession. Anchored as land issues are in rampant economic inequality, poverty and growing unemployment, historic identity politics associated with land is being reinvigorated.

The added reality is that agrarian reform is limited by poor arable potential, estimated at around 11% of the country's 1.22 million km2 land surface. There are significant ecological variations ranging from dry conditions (desert and semi-desert) in the west, to bands of higher rainfall regions in the east, with 28% of the land surface receiving 600mm or more of rain per annum. Most land is suitable only for extensive livestock production [1]. Pre-colonial and early colonial society was mainly pastoral, while the key resources that led to the industrial and agricultural revolutions in the late nineteenth century were minerals, in which the country is rich. This resulted in a relatively large European settler population owning most of the land, with black labour reserves servicing the mining industry. The socio-spatial configurations thus followed racial, linguistic, cultural and class lines that have proven resistant to change.

The apotheosis of white minority rule was the Apartheid state from the mid-twentieth century, which enforced race-based discriminatory legislation accompanied by forced removals aimed at complete spatial segregation of races. Africans were expected to reside in ethnic homeland or 'bantustan' enclaves according to 10 cultural-linguistic categories under supposed self-rule, while rural reserves were also created for mixed race people and indigenous Khoisan people (formerly hunter-gatherers) who in South Africa were referred to as 'coloureds'. Urban areas were strictly racially segregated. Although this goal was never fully achieved, most of the land was, and still is, formally owned, but not predominantly occupied by, whites. Large numbers of blacks and coloureds live on white-owned commercial farmland as workers, labour tenants or insecure occupiers.

In spite of an extensive land reform programme to change these patterns, land access, use, ownership and governance continue to mirror historic patterns of racial spatial inequality and legal pluralism [2]. The future trajectory is highly contested, with calls for more radical policies to redistribute land.


Selected indicators

Agricultural Area (1'000 Ha) is the land area mainly devoted to agriculture. It includes arable land, permanent crops, and permanent pasture, as defined by FAO.

Measurement unit: 
1'000 ha

Total spending for agricultural reserch measured measured as a share of the value added from agriculture, forestry and fishing activities

Measurement unit: 
Percentage (%)

The Corruption Perceptions Index aggregates data from a number of different sources that provide perceptions of business people and country experts of the level of corruption in the public sector.

Measurement unit: 
Index (0; 100)

GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (PPP). PPP GDP is gross domestic product converted to international dollars using purchasing power parity rates.

Measurement unit: 
PPP$ 2011

Estimate of the percent of total Indigenous and Community Lands - formally recognised by the State - as a percentage of the country's total land area.

Measurement unit: 
Percentage (%)

Rural population refers to the share (%) of people living in rural areas as defined by national statistical offices. It is calculated as the ratio between Urban Population and Total Population.

Measurement unit: 
Percentage (%)

This indicator measures the proportion of terrestrial protected areas as a share of the total land area in a country.

Measurement unit: 
% of total land area

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Share (%) of Agricultural Value added with respect to the Total Value Added produced in a given country in a given year.

Measurement unit: 
Percentage (%)

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Land used permanently (five years or more) to grow herbaceous forage crops through cultivation or naturally (wild prairie or grazing land).

Measurement unit: 
1'000 ha

Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF)

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    • Very Good Practice
    • Good Practice
    • Weak Practice
    • Very Weak Practice
    • Missing Value

    Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT)

    Legend: National laws adoption of the VGGT principle
    • Fully adopt
    • Partially adopt
    • Not adopted
    • Missing Value

    Note: The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (The VGGTs) were endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012.

    The "VGGT indicators" dataset has been created by Nicholas K. Tagliarino, PhD Candidate at the University of Groningen, with support from Daniel Babare and Myat Noe (LLB Students, University of Groningen). The indicators assess national laws in 50 countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America against international standards on expropriation, compensation, and resettlement as established by Section 16 of the VGGTs.

    Each indicator relates to a principle established in section 16 of the VGGTs. Hold the mouse against the small "i" button above for a more detailed explanation of the indicator.

    Answering the questions posed by these indicators entails analyzing a broad range of national-level laws, including national constitutions, land acquisition acts, land acts, community land acts, agricultural land acts, land use regulations, and some court decisions.

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    Disclaimer: The data displayed on the Land Portal is provided by third parties indicated as the data source or as the data provider. The Land Portal team is constantly working to ensure the highest possible standard of data quality and accuracy, yet the data is by its nature approximate and will contain some inaccuracies. The data may contain errors introduced by the data provider(s) and/or by the Land Portal team. In addition, this page allows you to compare data from different sources, but not all indicators are necessarily statistically comparable. The Land Portal Foundation (A) expressly disclaims the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any data and (B) shall not be liable for any errors, omissions or other defects in, delays or interruptions in such data, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Neither the Land Portal Foundation nor any of its data providers will be liable for any damages relating to your use of the data provided herein.