‘Counting in’ Farm Dwellers: Using Record-Keeping to Realise the Right of People Living on Commercial Farms | Land Portal

Resource information

Date of publication: 
July 2020
Resource Language: 

Farm dwellers – that is, people who live on commercial farms owned by someone other than themselves – are a heterogeneous social group whose socio-economic rights, including those to land, continue to be violated and neglected. Little progress has been made in realising the constitutional rights farm dwellers have to housing, water, sanitation and security of tenure. A key reason for this is that farm dwellers are not ‘legible’ to the state: there is no data available that enables the state to plan and implement programmes targeting them.

To address this, the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a land rights NGO, implemented a pilot project in 2018 to record the rights of 850 farm dweller households in the Umgungundlovu District in KwaZulu-Natal province. Each household was issued a record with a GPS location, property description, household members, and land and service rights. This ‘put farm dwellers on the map’, allowing them to be ‘counted in’. It facilitated progress on a farm dweller programme to address their legal rights and inclusion in the district IDP.

The pilot shows the importance of basic geo-referenced records with demographic data in realising a range of socio-economic rights for people who live in off-register contexts, such as commercial farms and urban shack settlements. It also points to a possible role for civil society organisations in spaces where state authority has little traction.

Read Feature on page 15 – 20 

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Dr Donna Hornby and Laurel Oettle


AFRA is a land rights advocacy non-governmental organisation (NGO) working since 1979 to support marginalised black rural people, with a focus on farm dwellers. We are working towards an inclusive, gender equitable society where rights are valued, realised and protected, essential services are delivered, and land tenure is secure. We work intensively with communities in and around the uMgungundlovu District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and extensively in offering support and advice.

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