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Gender and Land Rights Database

South Africa

  • In mid-2006, the total population was estimated at 47 837 000, of which 22 996 401 were male and 24 840 736 were female (1). In 2004, 42% of the total population lived in rural areas. In the same year, 8%of the 18 897 000 economically active people were working in the agriculture sector (2).
  • In 2007, the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 283 billion and the per capita GPD was USD 5 914, with an annual average growth of 1% in 1990-2007 (3). In 2008, agriculture contributed 3.3% of the GDP and employed 9% of the labour force. Industry contributed 22.7% and services contributed 63 percent of the GDP (4). The country has a well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors and has experienced stable growth in 2004-2008. However, economic problems remain from the apartheid era such as the lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups (4).
  • The Human Development Index (HDI) value was 0.674 in 2005, ranking 121st out of the 177 countries for which HDI was calculated (5). It is estimated that less than 2% of the total population was living on less than USD 1 a day from 2001–2003, which is much lower than in the rest of the African countries (2). The number of undernourished people in that same period reached 1.9 million, making up 4% of the entire population (2). Since the early 1990s, HIV and AIDS have continued to present a challenge to public health. Almost 21% of the population was living with HIV/AIDS in late 2001 (6). Recent data, however, have showed a decrease in infection rates, especially among younger people. Among people 15–19 years of age, the percentage of those infected dropped from 16.1% in 2004 to 12.9% in 2007. There was a similar significant decline in the 20–24 year age group. The HIV prevalence estimate in people aged 30–39 remains at similar levels; however, there is a tendency for that rate to increase because older women are unable to moderate factors related to acquiring infection as a result of cultural circumstances (7). In 2004, life expectancy at birth was 44 years for males and 45 years for females (8).The literacy rate among women is almost the same as among males: 87.2 percent for women and 88.9 percent for men in 1997-2007 (4).
  • The percentage of women engaged as agricultural labourers reached 16% in 2004 and is lower than in other sub-Saharan African countries (9). However, since many women farmers are registered as housewives, the percentage of women working in agriculture might be higher than the data would indicate (3). Rural income per capita tends to be much lower than the average national per capita income. In agricultural labour, especially in coffee plantations, there are substantial gender differences in the nature of jobs and contractual conditions. Most women tend to work in low-paying, seasonal/temporary jobs, where workers are paid about one-third the amount that permanent workers receive (10). Security of tenure is also unequally distributed between men and women. Housing benefits, granted to plantation workers by agrarian reform programmes, are usually given to permanent employees, who are usually men. Permanent jobs, dominated by men, are more secure than the seasonal and temporary jobs mainly occupied by women, who have no security of being hired the following year. As a consequence, single women workers, usually temporary workers, tend to be excluded from housing grants (10). Also, the employment of women farm workers is often tied to their husbands’ employment, as there is evidence of married women farm workers who work on the basis of contracts signed by their husbands (10).
  • Land law is characterized by the Roman-Dutch common law tradition, the legacy of apartheid and the post-apartheid land reform efforts. In the 1990s, the government launched a comprehensive land reform programme based on three approaches: land restitution; land redistribution by the “willing-buyer willing-seller” principle and state-funded grants; and land tenure reform to increase farmers’ tenure security for farm workers, labour tenants in white-owned farms and farmers in the former homelands (10). These three measures were supposed to put 30%of land tenure under black ownership by 2014; however, so far only 4% has been transferred. Moreover, the country is already 60% urbanized and is expected to reach 70% by 2014; few of those who went to towns to work are likely to return home. In 2008, the government decided to abandon its Expropriation Bill (11).
  • Gender equity is one of the fundamental principles of the country’s land reform, as provided for by the white paper on Land Policy of 1997 and the Land Reform Gender Policy of 1997. However, socio-cultural practices often prevent rural women from holding land titles. In the former homelands, customary land tenure is applied. These customary practices vary, depending on the region and the political alignment of the chiefs: in Northwest Province, some chiefs who are aligned with the African National Congress (ANC) have allocated land to married women, although not to single women with children; much more conservative practices are reported in the KwaZulu-Natal province (10).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography