LAND MANAGEMENT AND LOCAL LEVEL REGISTRIES
by CLARISSA FOURIE AND HERMAN VAN GYSEN
DEPARTMENT OF SURVEYING AND MAPPING,
UNIVERSITY OF NATAL (DURBAN), SOUTH AFRICA
Paper presented at 63rd Federation of International Surveyors PC Conference,
Buenos Aires, Argentina, April, 1996. Paper published in 1996 in South
African Journal of Surveying and Mapping, 23, 6(142): 353:359.
Case material from Namibia shows that land management
in developing areas is facilitated where there is a flow of information
to the public from a local level registry. Land reform programmes in South
Africa, which rely on registry information for land management, might
well consider this approach to improve record currency, the sustainability
of titling and land use controls and conflict resolution over land rights.
Placing this in a theoretical framework, we show that, despite it being
a non-computerised registry, the usual concept and characteristics of
a multi-purpose cadastre apply to the material, albeit unconventionally.
The very unconventionality and informality found with respect to the registry
might point towards more appropriate approaches for multipurpose cadastres
in the developing world.
We will argue that it is only by setting up local level
multipurpose registries, which facilitate the flow of land information
and land management, that it will be possible to solve some of South Africa's
land reform problems. We will argue, based on research on a local level
registry in Namibia, that the multipurpose cadastral concept often proposed
for developed countries is possibly even more crucial for land management
in developing countries, especially those involved in land reform programmes.
However, although the concept is the same, the form which such a multipurpose
cadastre should take in a developing area, differs from the classical
approach usually described by its proponents.
Problem to be solved: Some of the land issues in South Africa
As a result of past apartheid policies many of South Africa's citizens
have become used to living outside of the formal land registration system.
This factor, together with the legacy of a skewed distribution of land
ownership which limited Black South Africans (75 percent of the population),
until 1991, to only 13 percent of the land up until 1991, has direct implications
for the country's cadastral records. We are arguing that the currency
of these records is poor in many developing areas of the country; and
that this currency might not improve as much as is expected using current
procedures. Such a lack of currency makes land management and land reform
more difficult where it is needed the most.
Buckley, the recent past President of the statutory council of the South
African survey industry, argues that in many areas of South Africa the
records do not mirror what is on the ground. For example, "[i]n Soweto
[the largest township in South Africa], ..[a]lthough freehold title has
only recently been introduced, more than 15% of the recent transfers have
not been registered. These figures are expected to escalate." (Buckley:1995:2).
This statement accords with the findings of a number of other land surveyors
around the country.
Informal settlements, also known as "squatter settlements" occur throughout
the country. In the province with the most settlement of this type, KwaZulu-Natal,
out of an estimated population of 9.3 million people, 26 percent of the
population is estimated in 1992 as living in informal settlements (Hindson
and McCarthy:1994:2-3). Although some of this settlement is on customary
tenure, there is also extensive informal settlement on privately held
land. In such areas the cadastral records do not mirror the reality on
the ground (Jenkins et al.:1986:45-47).
In many areas of South Africa there are multiple claims to the same parcel
of land in terms of the restitution process. In 1994 a Restitution of
Land Rights Act was passed which created a commission and a land claims
court whose task was to investigate the claims of people who had lost
specific parcels of land because of apartheid. Although the main intention
of the act was to return freehold land to those who had been dispossessed
after 1913, other claimants are also being considered, such as "..farm
workers, labour tenants, landless tribes, people affected by betterment
[villagization] schemes.." (Department of Land Affairs:1995:4).
An example of multiple claims, including restitution claims, within the
same area, albeit one of the more complex examples, is that of Cato Manor.
This vacant area of land, in the heart of Durban, intended for the development
of low income housing for 180,000 people, has a range of claims against
it. Some of these being, the former landowners; the present landowners;
the present squatters on the land; the squatters who lived there before
they were removed in the late 1950s when the original landowners were
expropriated for apartheid planning ideals; and the Cato Manor Development
Association, which heads a President's project to develop the area for
the poor (Makhathini:1994:61).
This example, though complex, is by no means unusual and demonstrates
the enormous problems being faced in the country. Not only is land management
and land delivery extremely difficult, but adjudication becomes a centre
stage issue. South Africa at present has no legislation which adequately
caters for this type of adjudication (although some is in the pipe-line).
The only adjudication legislation on the statute books was created during
the apartheid era for the awarding of deeds of grant on state land (Statutes
of the Republic of South Africa:1993).
Where titling and adjudication legislation and procedures are inadequate
the weak, and especially women, are discriminated against. Lastarria-Cornhiel
argues that "[d]uring the transition (be it through land reform, market
forces, or a land titling project), men and particularly male heads of
households acquire total, legal ownership of.. land. [The process can]..
eliminate the few rights.. that women had to land.." (Lastarria-Cornhiel:1995:39).
In these circumstances if the registered male title holder dies then it
is unlikely that the woman, who originally had some form of de facto land
right, would take the trouble to re-register the land in her name. This
aspect is important both for the customary tenure areas in South Africa,
as well as for the burgeoning informal settlements which are in the process
of being titled and serviced.
A few of the major reasons why the cadastral records are not current in
some of the developing areas are:
The present registry is not accessible in terms of location;
Re-registration is too costly;
There is no re-registration because of conflicting claims to
The deeds registry system is not transparent to the poor and
historically disadvantaged, who in some instances are still suspicious
that the system is not looking after their interests;
Conflict over women's de jure land rights despite their de facto
Weak local government structures and officials who have allowed
development without land use control consent procedures or legal titling;
The structural tension between group and individual rights to
land - this occurs in customary tenure as well as formal townships;
The slow pace of the legal redistribution of the land, because
of multiple claims, the administrative and legal complexity of creating
developable land and adjudication problems;
Only ad hoc conflict management is done at the local level, so
that boundary disputes and the conflict which can result from land use
control interventions are not dealt with systematically;
THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: LAND MANAGEMENT AND
LAND INFORMATION AT THE LOCAL LEVEL
We are arguing that, where registry and other land
information is held at the local level in developing areas, and is held
in such a way that it is readily available to a wide range of local officials
and ordinary people, land management (land administration) is facilitated.
Local land management is improved because the land information is readily
available, but it is also improved because of the increased symmetry in
this information. This increased symmetry comes about not only because
the land information is available at the local level but because it also
sets up local linkages and builds the decision making capacity of local
To undertake land management, so necessary in developing areas, information
about the land is needed. Nichols argues that "[i]nformation is the foundation
for making, implementing, and enforcing land management decisions. Those
involved in the management process -from public policy makers to private
developers -require information.. about land tenure because the implementation
of plans and policies ultimately rests in rights to use, control and benefit
from the land and its resources.. As custodians of land tenure information,
land registration systems have an essential role to play in land management."
(Nichols:1993:26). That is, to improve land management it is essential
that land information, especially that held in the land registry offices,
should be readily available to the public. The idea of the multipurpose
cadastre has received international currency in regard to this aspect.
Dale and McLaughlin define such a cadastre as "..a large-scale, community-oriented
land information system designed to serve both public and private organizations
and individual citizens."
They go on to identify some of a multipurpose cadastre's distinguishing
characteristics. The cadastral parcel is "..the fundamental unit of spatial
organization.."; and such a cadastre "..relates a series of land records..
to this parcel.."; And ".. provides a ready and efficient means of access
to the data." Finally they add that, "It differs from other forms of the
cadastre in its breadth.. [And].. from other forms of land information
system in that it is parcel based." (Dale and McLaughlin:1988:63-4).
That is, "The intention of a multipurpose cadastre is to make information
held in registries easily available to the public for the use of the society.
This is usually done by making it possible for the private sector or other
government departments to buy information from the Department of Lands.
This presupposes that the government's information is.. accessible; that
both the private sector and other government departments have the capacity
to obtain and use this information; and that both the private sector and/or
government departments have the financial ability to buy this information.
In underdeveloped countries this is unlikely." (Alberts et al.:1995:39).
We are arguing that the Rehoboth registry system in Namibia could be seen
to be a form of multipurpose cadastre in that it fits into the conceptual
framework outlined by Dale and McLaughlin and has many of the distinguishing
features which they identify (see below). But it functions differently
from the conventional multipurpose cadastres being developed. The Rehoboth
registry, which will be described in more detail below, has made land
information (conditions of title and ownership descriptions, survey information,
land use control/zoning and valuation information) for land management
(agricultural and urban, planning and adjudication) available for many
years to a local community of about 35,000 people. It has provided this
service without any computers, "..with a poor record keeping system which
has no indexes and with no formal framework for the management of information
flows, and most significantly in a developing world context."(Alberts
We are arguing that land management decision making at the local level
has been facilitated by the flow of information from the registry office
to local level officials and ordinary people. This conforms with the findings
of practitioners of what is known as the Participatory Rural Appraisal
(PRA) system. Instead of outside professionals (specialists) obtaining
information about a local area by using field workers, then fitting this
information into an official land management plan of action "..in which
locals are then invited to participate.. PRA 'facilitators' hand the planning
initiative over to the local people. They are encouraged to use their
first hand knowledge and expertise of practices.. [And information about
land tenure relations].. to construct charts, maps and matrices.. In many
cases, the problem-solving strategies that result are innovative.. And
The PRA technique operates on the premise that problems in these areas
are endemic and ongoing. "The solution is to equip people.. To tackle..
[Land management problems].. as a group through an organised process of
inquiry.. PRA helps them set and achieve their own management standards
working within local means." (Lamb:1993:38).
The PRA approach introduces the idea that the amount and symmetry of land
information can be increased using formal techniques (group problem solving
approaches). These techniques, and the information collected, can then
have a direct impact on the ability of a local community to manage its
problems, including land management issues. Although Lamb does not discuss
registry information or any information held on formal records, the approach
he documents can be seen to exist in the processes and information flows
surrounding the Rehoboth deeds registry system in Namibia.
That is, by taking the PRA approach, linking it to the stated objective
of multipurpose cadastres (Dale and McLaughlin:1988) and placing it within
Nichols' (1993) linking model for land information and land management,
it is possible to suggest a way forward to solve problems in the developing
areas of South Africa, as outlined above. Most importantly, the theoretical
construct can be compared to what is already operating, albeit informally,
in a local level registry system, in Rehoboth.
An overview of the literature indicates that although the concept and
existence of local level registration and/or record management for land
administration and management is not new (Angus-Leppan and Williamson:1985:69,71;
Adlington:1991:8), and could well be becoming fashionable (de Soto:1989:25,248;
Williamson:N.D.:13,17; Fourie: 1994: 21-23,30-35; Christensen and Hoejgaard:
1995:6,7; Latu:ND:30; Ezigbalike, Rakai and Williamson:1995:12), the details
surrounding these systems have still to be fleshed out. We hope that the
Namibian material presented here, within terms of this theoretical framework,
will contribute to this debate and to the building of cadastral reform
CASE STUDY: THE REHOBOTH DEEDS REGISTRY IN NAMIBIA
Land tenure background
Rehoboth is an area in the south of
Namibia which has a population of about 35,000 people. It has a distinctive
land tenure history focused on a particular group of people who call themselves
the Rehoboth Basters. It consists of an agricultural area and a developed
formal urban area, making it possible to assess land management and registry
information in terms of both rural and urban needs.
The first form of title deeds (plaaspapieren) in the area were issued
in 1895 by the Baster Raad, or council, and were recorded in the diary
of a council member. Starting with the Paternal Laws at the end of the
last century, some of the land tenure of the Basters was codified over
time by missionaries and then colonists (German and South African). In
1976 the South African government encouraged the Rehoboth Basters to take
so-called 'independence' from the rest of the country. This action also
involved the creation of a deeds registry system just for Rehoboth Basters.
This registry took over all the titles in the area, such as freehold and
leasehold, as well as the mortgages. Most of these were the original farm
titles (plaaspapieren), many of which had been surveyed and registered
in the central deeds registry of Namibia. The Rehoboth registry also held
the undivided share titles which were linked to most of these farms. Most
of the surveyed farms had a number of co-owners or co-heirs, because of
the inheritance system practised in Rehoboth. Their rights were registered
as a portion of a share, with no spatial extent defined. Costs for the
preparation and registration of transfers for farms or erven in this deeds
registry system is presently about US$5.00 and such transfers can usually
be done in a day.
The erven (lots) in Rehoboth town were also registered (some being surveyed
and some not) after 1976 as freehold. Individuals traditionally had had
a right to such an erf at no cost, because they were a member of the Baster
group. Prior to 1976 erven were allocated by the Baster Raad and pointed
out to individuals by what could be termed a 'community surveyor' who
worked for this council.
There was also communal land used by the community, which was originally
administered by the Baster Raad, then by the Rehoboth government, and
is now disputed land between the central government and some local officials
of the previous government of Rehoboth.
Land information and linkages in Rehoboth
Throughout Rehoboth's history decisions have been made about land and
land use controls which were debated at an annual get together and then
put in place by their indigenous officials, some of whom became officials
of the Rehoboth government. The community ethic was that there was no
privacy attached to land information; everybody had a right to such information.
Also, the Rehoboth community has a history of being a cohesive group,
which meant that all those who were involved with land management and
administration had known each other over time and probably had multiple
social links (kinship, church, neighbours, career paths, etc).
Group cohesiveness, that land information was accepted public property
and that the registry information came to be held locally, all facilitated
the flow of land information from the registry to other officials dealing
with land, as well as ordinary citizens.
That is, the registry staff spend a lot of the day interpreting the uncomputerised
data held on the registry files, adding it to information held in their
heads, and supplying this value added information to local land managers,
as well as assisting ordinary people to make better decisions about their
land. This would not have been possible without the combination of circumstances
and social processes outlined above which led to a particular user-friendly
corporate culture in the registry office.
"People from undeveloped areas are often intimidated by government offices
staffed by people whom they do not know. This.. leads to a situation where
such people rely on 'gate-keepers', such as big men or patrons to help
them deal with issues such as obtaining finance, land, solving inheritance
problems and boundary disputes. The Rehoboth registry staff have.. historically
filled such a gap for the residents of the area." (Alberts et al.:1995:38).
Information flows and land management
Some examples over time of the flow of registry information to other officials
concerned with land and ordinary citizens are:-
The registrar and the agricultural extension
officers worked very closely together. Extension officers used registry
information given to them by the registrar (who holds what rights to
surveyed parcels; how many undivided shares and the identity of the
CO-owners, mortgages) and cadastral maps, as part of the information
necessary for adjudication, consolidation of land, and land management.
For example, they would assist CO-heirs in coming to an agreement about
the use of the land. These extension officers would try and ensure,
for the sake of agricultural productivity and to limit the degradation
of the environment, that the entrepreneur among the CO-heirs, usually
"the man with the best horse," was protected in terms of their adjudication.
Adjudication and dispute resolution, based on registry information
and local knowledge, was also done in order to move parcels of land
from communal and/or disputed ownership to individual ownership. This
was done, in rural and urban areas, to facilitate local entrepreneurs
and developers, so that they could utilise the land productively and
obtain mortgages. It was also done to change rural villages to formal
urban settlement, where people were already settled around a spring.
Community surveyors' based in the Rehoboth municipality often
undertook locally acceptable land management and planning tasks, within
terms of the legal restrictions and rights that have been defined by
the wider society. They do this by making reference to general plans;
deeds registry information supplied by the registrar; topocadastral
maps; and having the beacons pointed out to them by professional surveyors
when surveys are undertaken.
Ordinary people are assisted by registry staff to draw up contracts
such as sales agreements, conditions of title, wills, marriage contracts,
and are also assisted with their estate management problems in relation
to land. How to deal in land, mortgages and second mortgages are also
explained by registry staff. The registrar indicated that he knew that
if these matters were not attended to, that they would affect the registry
records at some future date.
Interviews indicated that ordinary Rehoboth
people considered the registry to be a local resource, in relation to
the ease of obtaining a transfer of property, as well as its accessibility,
in terms of location and corporate culture.
Other officials in Rehoboth dealing with land matters, who were responsible
for land records of the type which would normally be linked into a multipurpose
cadastre, indicated that they too valued the information which they obtained
from the registry staff. The registrar indicated that he acquired a wider
range of knowledge, about the various parcels registered in his office,
from these discussions. He used this knowledge to check, and in some instances
improve, the currency of his records, by instigating action by adjudicators
or the estate section.
Problems in a local level registry
We have shown that the flows of information and the multiple roles being
played by locally based registry staff facilitate land management at a
number of levels. However, the very form which this takes also creates
problems within a registry system.
Because of the lack of skilled administrative capacity at the local level
the registrar often finds himself in situations where there is a conflict
of interests. He witnesses the sale (and even sometimes the payment of
money), and also draws up the papers and then registers the transfer.
He also has to draw up conditions of title, then prepare the papers, register,
and then file them. Sometimes this conflict of interests has resulted
in the registrar being taken to court. Unreliable record keeping is more
likely when the land register is kept at the local level, because of the
lack of administrative capacity, training, adequate supervision and political
Another problem area is "[t]he structural tension that exists between
different groups at the same level, or between levels, [which] is often
mirrored in the registry records, especially if the registry is not held
at the national level. These groups can be elites versus the poor, different
levels of government, rural/traditional groups versus urban groupings
within the same community, local versus the wider society.. The registrar
has to manage this range of political tensions which impact the registry."
(Alberts et al.:1995:40). If the registrar and his staff are the source
of registry information rather than the information being held on computer
for public access, then they have to link through to a large range of
information users with different capacities and interests. They "..have
to do this both in terms of the administrative and political structures
in existence (and their capacities over time).. [and] supply information
of all types required by the range of other role players in the land information
and development process, such as citizens, banks, professionals, rural..
[And] urban land managers, government officials." (Alberts et al.:1995:40).
AS A MULTIPURPOSE CADASTRE
Returning to Dale and McLaughlin's definition of a multipurpose cadastre
(1988:63,4), we have shown that the Rehoboth registry is a multipurpose
cadastre in concept, though not necessarily in form. That is, it is a
large-scale land information system which is community oriented and serves
both public and private organizations and individuals.
However, Rehoboth does not conform completely in terms of the distinguishing
features of a multipurpose cadastre which Dale and McLaughlin identify
(1988:63,4). Firstly, although its system is based on the cadastral parcel,
not all parcels registered have a spatial description. Secondly, although
the registry is linked to a series of other land records, this is not
in a conventional fashion as it relies on human communication alone.
Thirdly, it could be said that although Rehoboth does not "provide a ready
and efficient means of access to the data", it certainly supplies this
type of access to registry information (data and interpretation by registry
staff), although again in an unconventional and administratively unstructured
way. Finally, the Rehoboth registry system is broader than the conventional
juridical cadastre found in the rest of the country, but again in an unplanned
We are arguing that the Rehoboth registry might give some valuable insights
into how to set up cadastral systems for developing areas. Dunkerley argues
that LIS in developing countries is too often not maintained and/or cannot
be replicated because of a lack of resources (1985:309). That registry
information flows to the public in Rehoboth, without computerisation,
suggests that multipurpose cadastres for the developing world can be replicated
and maintained. However, as Williamson (ND:13,17) argues, new and unconventional
approaches have to be adopted when addressing cadastral issues in the
developing world. He states that these approaches should include "the
establishment of ..appropriate legal and institutional frameworks; local
level involvement for the establishment and operation of the system; ..
listening to the users of the system.." (Williamson:ND:17). All of these
approaches and more are apparent in the Rehoboth material and should perhaps
be incorporated in new thinking about multipurpose cadastres.
DRAWING THE THREADS TOGETHER
We have identified a number of land management problems
which have to be addressed in the South African land reform programme.
Some of these problems relate to:- record currency, adjudication, legitimacy
and user-friendliness of the registry, lack of knowledge about property
rights and responsibilities by the historically disadvantaged, sustainability
of titling measures and land use controls, and cumbersome legal and administrative
The Rehoboth material indicates that if a local level registry makes information
accessible to the public it is possible to:- á
Build local knowledge about property rights,
thereby improving the legitimacy and sustainability of the system.
Undertake adjudication over time using local officials.
Make land use controls more sustainable.
Improve currency in the registry records.
Build local land management capacity to the point where people
are not entirely dependent on professional outsiders.
Get people to feel that the registry office is a local resource.
Get poor people to reregister their land.
Solve boundary, inheritance and group versus individual disputes
locally and cheaply.
Avoid some of the lengthy legal and administrative delays that
are linked to land delivery procedures driven from the centre.
We are arguing that a local level registry
along the lines of the Rehoboth system could supply some, but not all,
of the answers to land management problems in developing areas. However,
firstly, the existing formal Rehoboth system should not be duplicated
as it stands. Improvements would have to be made to it. At the least,
information flows to the public from such a local level registry would
have be much more formally structured in terms of administrative procedures.
Also, a formal effort would have to be made to create the kind of corporate
culture which would make people see it as a local resource. The range
of roles which lead to conflicts of interest around the registrar, as
well as the effects of political pressure on the registrar and his records,
would have to be examined and ameliorative administrative measures created.
Ongoing training of staff and their supervision within the administrative
structure could also go a long way to improving the quality of the records
held at the local level.
We are arguing that a re-vamped Rehoboth type registry system is necessary
for land reform and land management in developing areas in South Africa.
However, such a system although necessary is not sufficient to ensure
land management and land delivery at the local level, in a jurisdiction
like South Africa. South Africa is a very regulated society with an extensive
and sophisticated range of registered rights, as well as high value land
and an economy largely underpinned by its cadastral system and registered
mineral rights. Finding one's way through the maze of legal and administrative
procedures is a task which even professional land managers find daunting.
We are therefore arguing that these professionals, both in the public
and private sector, have a vital role to play in land management. Their
role should be both one of understanding and guiding the 'big picture,'
but they also have a role linked to local level registries.
This role should be more along the lines described in the PRA approach.
They should build and facilitate local land management and administrative
capacity linked to the registry, rather than trying to solve the problems
on a one off basis from outside the local community by imposing top-down
solutions. This role of the professional land manager could be vitally
important in relation to the integrity of the registry and how it, and
the rights it registered, were perceived by the wider society and the
finance houses in particular.
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C.Fourie was involved with a team of
consultants in investigating options for parallel interchangeable property
registration systems in Namibia. Her research focused on the flows of
information from the Rehoboth deeds registry office to the local community.
This consultancy was undertaken for the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement
and Rehabilitation, Namibian Government and the authors wish to thank
the Ministry for allowing the research results to be used for publication.
Reference is made in the paper to the report produced by the consultants,
'Discussion paper on options for parallel interchangeable property registration
systems' by R.Alberts, C.Fourie,J.Latsky and D.Palmer.