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How big is the demand for land in South Africa

Land reform is a movement that is hotly debated, especially with Parliament moving forward on the policies surrounding it. But what do people actually want the land for? 

In the early transformitive years of 1994/5 the Land Reform Research Programme of the LAPC found that 67.7% of national black rural households had wanted the land for farming. However, the organisation cautioned that the information should be viewed with care as there had been issues in the way questions had been asked as well as how data had been collected and analysed.

These issues included how farming had been defined as well as the fact that only a small portion of the country had been interviewed. The organisation deemed the findings were not a true representation of the entire demographic and said that the results were at best an indication of trends.

The Centre for Development and Enterprise ( CDE) had commissioned the study. The results had found that 9% of Africans who were not farmers had desired land where they could live and farm ‘ even if I struggled’. A further 23% said they would also like farm land, but only if they would earn good money. 38% of the group had admitted to preferring a home as well as work in an urban area instead.

The study had concluded that the African population did not deem access to rural land and agricultural opportunities as their goal. The research also claimed that most nationals saw land mainly in terms of a ‘place to stay’, not a ‘place to farm’. Ruth Hall, a professor at the University of the Western Cape Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, had said that wanting land for settlement and wanting land for farming were not mutually exclusive.

“It’s important to point out that a lot of people are wanting access to land for a secure place to live plus a little bit more. That doesn’t mean that they want to be full-time farmers. And I think that the options that have been provided to date – which is basically either you become a full-time commercial farmer or you leave with nothing – has been such a false choice set up for people.”

A 2004/5 Human Sciences Research Council had surveyed over 1200 Africans in Limpopo, the Free State and Eastern Cape areas. Almost 60% of those who had desired land had indicated that their reason had been to grow food. More than a third of the people in the study had revealed that they either wanted or needed additional land. “A far smaller share – about 14% – wanted land mainly for generating an income.” Around three-quarters of the participants had wanted 5 hectares or less. Around 16% of the participants had expressed their desire for 20 hectares and more for income purposes.

A 2006/7 study in rural Western Cape towns had found that 75% of the participants had needed land. A collaboration between the Trust for Community Outreach and Education, the Mawubuye Land Rights Forum, PLAAS and the University of the Western Cape’s department of economics had seen to the research undertaken.

Almost 3000 households consisting of African and coloured people who resided in townships around Robertson, Ashton, McGregor, Bonnievale and Montagu as well as farm workers had taken part. Those who had said their households needed land or more land had cited a need for housing as well as the need to grow food to feed their families as well as to generate income. “It is striking that most people who want land want it for more than one purpose,” the authors of the study said.

More than half of the participants had cited housing and feeding their household for the reason why they desired more land. 39% had stated they would cultivate food for an income, 30% said they would run a business off of the property with 28% saying they would use the land for grazing livestock. The majority of the households had said they only needed/ wanted a hectare or less. Another point raised had been that the majority did not want to co-own a space on a large farm with other families but prefer a smallholding close to town.

The most recent study considered had been undertaken in 2015 by the Institute for Race Relations and had asked over 2 200 people over the age of 16 to choose between receiving rural land for farming or getting land for housing in towns and cities. This study had found around 37% of the population had preferred farmland. 58.3% had opted instead for land close to towns. However, this line of thinking had disregarded the demand for small-scale farming in urban areas. The IRR’s head of policy research, Anthea Jeffery had declined the opportunity to comment on the findings. “The distinction between settlement and agriculture is often a false distinction for people who are poor, who have a history in farming – they might have been farm workers or might have lived in communal areas – but now they are needing to be close to the city. So we’re needing hybrid models.


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