Information on the Rural Areas Act | Western Cape Government

Information on the Rural Areas Act

This publication contains background information on the Rural Areas Act 1987, as well as details of the transformation process and the geographical orientation of rural areas in the Western Cape.

The Rural Areas, proclaimed in terms of The Rural Areas Act (House of Representatives), 1987 (Act No 9 of 1987) were spread over most of South Africa. These areas each had its own diverse history and character, ranging from the 400 000 ha Mier Rural Area to the 55ha Pniël Rural Area near Stellenbosch. In all probability, the Rural Areas were not the result of deliberate government actions to create "Coloured Reserves", but they rather came into being due to different historical reasons e.g.:

  • "Tickets of Occupation" or "Certificates of Reservation" issued by the British Colonial Authority upon request by the Nama population and missionaries in Namakwaland to protect tenure rights of inhabitants against "Trekboere"; or
  • Individual tenure rights (Oppermansgronde); or
  • Started by missionaries (Genadendal); or
  • Due to land allocation policy (Eksteenskuil)

The land of mission stations also had differing histories, e.g.:

  • Genadendal was initially allocated to the "Morawiese Broederkerk" who later transferred the land to the state, to be held in trust for the community;
  • The Roman Catholic Church received permission from the state to do missionary work at Pella; and
  • The Dutch Reformed Church owned Friemersheim, who sold the land to the state in the 1960's.

In most of the rural areas, the church played a significant role in their formation and development through missionary work. This led to a feeling of belonging and a strong community focus. Stability, and a yearning for stability typified these inhabitants, who nurtured their linkages over long periods with a specific area. Due to the prominent role of the church and also prominent core-families over extended periods of time, a community identity developed that instilled pride and a rather conservative view of the protection of their areas.

The demographics of these areas to an extent, reflect the colonial and Apartheid-years, as well as the cultural and community ethics of the areas. Broadly, it can be stated that the social, economical and political environment placed a large role in these areas. They were seen as a place of safety for those with historical links to the areas. Especially the elderly and the unemployed saw them as a haven due to their specific community bonds. Numbers of children also completed their schooling in these areas, rather than in the urban group areas where moral and social values were not the same. There were also those that chose to live and work/farm in these areas, as they preferred the rural character to the apartheid world outside. Compared to the Black Homelands, the population densities were low. Registered occupiers who worked elsewhere, still maintained their strong bonds with the areas, due to the social security it provided as well as for retirement purposes. In theses areas, family ties (and wealth determined social status). Other factors were also length of stay, religion and age. There are few fulltime farmers, a high percentage of pensioners, high numbers of children still attending school, migrant workers who only return over weekends and unemployment. Although the socio-economic situation created lots of squatters in the rest of the country, these areas did not really suffer this fate, because of their location and the issue around family links to the areas.

Towns in the Rural Areas in the main developed around schools and churches. The layouts were determined by the topography, as well as the norms of the mission societies they belonged to. Order was maintained by the Local Advisory Councils, who had the authority to sanction inhabitants to "toe the line". In some missions stations, inhabitants could even be told to leave the area, after public consultation. They were in essence bodies that enforced/controlled law and order and consequently, when they were replaced by Management Councils and even the Transitional Local Councils in later years, they elicited hefty criticism due to them now also having to undertake the responsibility of development, for which they simply were not capacitated. This criticism was strengthened by their financial dependency on the government.

The new functions of these councils brought about a change in community dynamics, where some wanted development to take place, whereas the elderly wanted to maintain and protect. Apathy towards development in these areas was also created by the culture of centralised planning and development that took place in South Africa up to recently. In these areas, due to developmental backlogs, most funding for development went into the townships and not into agriculture. This, together with lack of tenure rights, led to stagnation in the agricultural field of development.

Development in the Rural Areas are to a large extent dictated by local, historically developed perceptions that:

  • Change will probably bring about a worsening situation;
  • The wider community wants to steal their land;
  • Prevents the local inhabitants from realising that new developments outside of their areas can impact positively on their areas.

The integration of these Rural Areas into the new municipal structures and areas, is therefore major challenges that will vary from area to area.


Future of the Rural Areas

The Transformation of Certain Rural Areas Act, 1999 (Act No 94 of 1999), that came into effect on 02 November 1999, prescribes the processes to be followed for the creation of entities to hold the land in the commonages in trust for the inhabitants of the Rural Areas. This process is managed by the Department of Land Affairs and the Municipality responsible for the relevant Rural Area. The role of this Department is mainly to undertake those issues in the townships that have to be dealt with in terms of the Rural Areas Act (Act 9 of 1987). This will entail a variety of actions, including land audits, planning approvals, approval of subdivisions, opening of township registries and the issuing of Deeds of Grant. It is envisaged that Act 9 will be repealed after all these processes have been completed. These processes should not be seen to be unrelated to the overall transformation and incorporation of the Rural Areas into the new municipal areas.


In the Western Cape, there are only twelve Rural Areas, namely Ebenezer, Friemersheim, Genadendal, Haarlem, Kranshoek, Mamre, Pniel, Rietpoort, Saron, Slangrivier, Suurbraak and Zoar.

Ebenezer West Coast Disctrict Municipality
Friemersheim Garden Route/Klein Karoo District Municipality
Genadendal Overberg District Municipality
Haarlem Garden Route/Klein Karoo District Municipality
Kranshoek Garden Route/Klein Karoo District Municipality
Mamre Cape Town
Pniël Boland District Municipality
Rietpoort West Coast Disctrict Municipality
Saron Boland District Municipality
Slangrivier Garden Route/Klein Karoo District Municipality
Suurbraak Overberg District Municipality
Zoar Garden Route/Klein Karoo District Municipality

Contact Person:
Mr John Blanchard
021 483 9486

The content on this page was last updated on 15 March 2014