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In an article titled "Black First! – Land First! A revolutionary Call", published by City Press on 13 August 2015, Andile Mngxitama reiterated his 2014 claim in a slightly different way.
Mngxitama wrote: “Out of the 54 million people in South Africa 35 000 white families, including white businesses, own more than 80% of the land.” But this claim is still incorrect and not supported by available data.
Do around 40,000 white families own 80% of the land in South Africa?
It is a claim that has been widely circulated since Andile Mngxitama, a Member of Parliament and “commissar for land and agrarian revolution” with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), raised the issue in an open letter to business tycoon Richard Branson in May this year.
In Mngxitama’s letter – written after the Virgin founder purchased a 40-hectare farm near Franschhoek in the Western Cape province – Branson’s acquisition was described as “stolen land”.
‘Native majority are landless’
A farm labourer carries harvested grapes on a Western Cape wine farm in a 2006 file photograph. Photo: AFP/Gianluigi Guercia“The dominant idiom since 1652 is that of the settler, who imposed it upon the native majority through force of arms,” Mngxitama wrote. “The result of this conquest is that, about 350 years later, the native majority is landless and only about 40,000 white families own up to 80% of our land.”
Mngxitama later repeated the claim on Twitter, writing: “#Land101 SA is constituted by 123-million hectares. 80% of SA land owned by only 40,000 white families. SA population [about] 53-million”.
In a subsequent television debate with Cornelius Janse van Rensburg from the Afrikaans “business rights watchdog” AfriSake, the EFF’s spokeswoman in Gauteng, Mandisa Mashego, was adamant that “80% of this country’s land is deemed as agricultural land and 80% of that land is owned by 40,000 white families”. Glaring, Janse van Rensburg responded: “It’s nonsense, it’s not so.”
Can the claim be dismissed as nonsense, or is there some truth to it?
79% of SA in private hands
Mngxitama was emphatic when we spoke to him: “40,000 white families own 80% of the land. Deal with that.” He said his claim was supported by a recent state land audit, data collected by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and research conducted bythe Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western-Cape.
Mashego did not respond to questions.
So what does the data tell us?
The state land audit, carried out by the office of South Africa’s Chief Surveyor-General and published in 2013, did indeed find that 79% of South Africa’s landmass was in private hands.
But that includes land owned by individuals, companies and trusts and all urban real estate as well as agricultural and mining land in South Africa.
Therefore, according to Mmuso Riba, the Chief Surveyor-General, “there is no basis” for the claim that whites own 80% of South Africa.
‘Land ownership deeply skewed’
A prospective buyer looks at a magazine during the Stud Game Breeders auction. Photo: AFP/Stefan HeunisOne possible source for Mashego’s claim is a dataset on land utilisation that is still used by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) despite the fact that it is more than two decades old. The data was compiled by the Development Bank of Southern Africa in 1991. (According to the department’s spokesman, Makenosi Maro, updated data will only be released towards the end of 2016.)
The 1991 dataset shows that 100,665,792 hectares – or 82.3% of South Africa’s surface area – consisted of farmland. Of this, 81.9% (or 86,186,026 hectares) was considered commercial agricultural land. The rest – situated in what were formerly “black homelands” established under the auspices of the apartheid state – remains classified as “developing agriculture”.
Prof. Cherryl Walker, professor of sociology at the University of Stellenbosch and author