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Fact Check 1: The Distribution of Land in South Africa: An Overview

by Cherryl Walker, with Alex Dubb in 2013

Over-simplified accounts of how land is distributed misrepresent the current dispensation. It is often claimed that:
1. In 1994, as a result of colonial dispossession and apartheid, 87% of the land was owned by whites and only 13% by blacks. By 2012 post-apartheid land reform had transferred 7.95 million hectares into black ownership (Nkwinti 2012), which is equivalent, at best, to 7.5% of formerly white-owned land. Whites as a social category still own most of the country’s land and redressing racial imbalances in land ownership is land reform’s most urgent priority.
2. The post-apartheid state currently owns a quarter of the country and redistributing this should be land reform’s first priority. When this is added to the 7.95 million hectares already acquired through land reform, plus the significant though unknown amount of land blacks are buying privately, the discrepancies between white and black ownership are sharply reduced and in some provinces may even be equitable.

There are elements of truth in both claims, but the overall picture is considerably more complex, with important implications for land policy.