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Key findings
  • When asked which type of land the government should prioritize for redistribution, more than eight out of 10 South Africans (84%) state a priority; only one in 20 (5%) say that land should not be redistributed.
  • The most frequently cited priority for land redistribution is land taken away during the government’s forcible removals of black South Africans, followed by agricultural land and urban vacant land.
  • A slim majority (53%) of citizens say the government should maintain its “willing seller- willing buyer” policy in acquiring property, including paying the seller. Only 26% disagree.
  • A majority (55%) of respondents say the government should allow farmers to retain ownership of land on which their laborers live. The strongest support for farmers retaining ownership is in Limpopo (71%) and the Western Cape (64%).
  • More than half (55%) of respondents think it’s unlikely they could obtain information about who owns land in their community from a deeds office.

In 1913, South Africa’s Land Act set aside 87% of the country’s land for exclusive use and ownership by white people, helping to divide the nation into a relatively prosperous white heartland and a cluster of increasingly impoverished black reserves on the periphery and within cities (Walker, 2017). More than a century later, South Africa is still struggling to redress this historical injustice and the inequality it continues to foster.

In December 2017, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) resolved to move ahead with land expropriation without compensation to speed up its land-reform program, although a multitude of policy details remain hotly contested (Grootes, 2018). The National Assembly has adopted a motion by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) endorsing this approach despite warnings of economic meltdown from the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) (Goba, 2018). While the public debate rages on, Parliament’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee has been reviewing comments and submissions on the issue and is expected to announce its recommendation in November regarding a possible constitutional amendment (Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2018).

How do average citizens view land reform? Findings from the 2018 Afrobarometer survey show that South Africans want the government to prioritize redistributing land taken during forced removals of Black South Africans half a century ago, followed by agricultural land and vacant land in cities. But the survey also shows majority support for the government’s “willing seller-willing buyer” policy and for the right of farmers to retain ownership of land tenanted by laborers.

Sibusiso Nkomo

Sibusiso is Programme Manager, Africa Office at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership