Emergent farmers, local knowledge and the implications for land reform

Atkinson, D and Buscher, B (2005), Emergent farmers, local knowledge and the implications for land reform: A profile of commonage users in Philippolis, Free State, Unpublished report, Centre for Development Support, University of the Free State.

 

Introduction and background

It is a curious phenomenon that modern municipalities in the southern provinces of South Africa own vast tracts of agricultural land. This was primarily the case in rural towns in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and the Free State.

Many municipalities inherited public land, called “commonage” or “meentgronde”. In some cases, this land used to be church assets, whereas in other cases, it was owned by the municipality.

In South Africa, municipal commonage can very broadly be defined as rather small tracts of land around villages and small cities, where a system of open access applies. In principle, everybody can thus make use of these lands, but it is especially meant for the poorer village residents, in order for them to build or enhance their livelihoods. Although crop-growing on commonage land occurs, it is mostly used for stock keeping and grazing. Until the mid-20th Century, municipalities administered commonage agricultural land for the benefit of white town residents. Subsequently, white residents tended to lose interest in small-scale agriculture, and this land was increasingly let to commercial farmers, at relatively high rentals. This formed a valuable source of municipal revenue.

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