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South African Land Reform Programme

Category: Policy/Strategy
Binomial Name: Government of the Republic of South Africa
Date: 1994 -
Sub Category:Policy/Strategy (South Africa)
State/Country:Republic of South Africa
Summary Information:
The South African Land Reform Programme was instituted by the South African government in order to counter inequities surrounding land ownership in post-apartheid South Africa. According to the government's 1997 White Paper on Land Policy ('White Paper') the principal object of the programme is to address poverty.

The White Paper states that '[p]ast land policies were a major cause of insecurity, landlessness, homelessness and poverty in South Africa…[resulting in] severely restricted effective resource utilisation and development.' In particular, apartheid land laws and policies resulted in restricted land ownership for non-white South Africans, removal from areas designated as 'white areas', and the 'homelands' system. The latter saw black South Africans treated as citizens of certain 'homelands' with nominally independent black governments and so considered 'migrants' who could be deported from the white-ruled Republic of South Africa. These policies saw approx 80% of South African freehold in the hands of white people, who constituted 13% of the population (Indigenous Law Bulletin)/.

The Land Reform Programme comprises three aspects, all of which are constitutional requirements. They are:

1. land restitution (s 25(7));
2. land redistribution (s 25 (5)); and
3. land tenure reform (s 25 (6) South African Constitution).

The programme is overseen by the Department of Land Affairs.
Detailed Information:
Land Restitution

The restitution aspect of the programme is implemented under the Restitution of Land Rights Act 1994 under which people who had suffered dispossession of their property as a result of discriminatory laws or practices after 19 June 1913 (the date of the enactment of Natives Land Act 1913 which curtailed land acquisition and ownership by non-white South Africans) can make a claim for restitution. The cut-off date for claims to have been lodged with the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights was 31 December 1998. As at 31 March 2007, 19,627 claims involving land restoration had been settled (Commission on Restitution of Land Rights 2007). Land restitution operates on a 'willing buyer/willing seller' basis, whereby the government compensates the current legal owner of land earmarked for restitution. Those claims that cannot be mediated by the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights are sent for adjudication by the Land Claims Court.

Land Redistribution

This aspect seeks to target those who had been made landless before the restitution cut-off date of 19 June 1913. Land distribution will focus on 'the urban and rural very poor, labour tenants, farm workers as well as new entrants to agriculture.' This is done through land acquisition grants which are 'expected' to be pooled by communities to jointly buy land (White Paper).

Land Tenure Reform

Apartheid laws and policies resulted in insecure tenure for many South Africans who held a mere permit to inhabit their land rather than a stronger possessory right. The tenure reforms include protecting the rights of labour tenants (see below Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, 1996), the right to claim title, and upgrading protections against evictions.
According to Cousins, 2.5 million hectares of land had been transferred through all aspects of the government’s land reform programmed by March 2004. This includes 2.9% of commercial agricultural land, short of the programme’s initial goal of 30% by 2008 (revised to 2015).

Related Entries

  • Department of Land Affairs (South Africa)
  • Government of the Republic of South Africa
  • Land Claims Court
  • Commission on Restitution of Land Rights
  • Legal Resource Centre
  • Legislation
  • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996
  • Restitution of Land Rights Act 1994
  • Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, 1996 (South Africa)
  • Policy/Strategy
  • Apartheid

  • Glossary

    Policy/Strategy (South Africa)

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