Types of Cadastral Systems:
Namibia has inherited a dualistic land tenure system. Roughly
half of the total land area is held under freehold title, while
the remainder is commonly referred to as "communal" land. The
category "communal" land subsumes a number of different land tenure
systems ranging from individual rights to residential and arable
land to communal rights to grazing. Until recently, all communal
land - whether rural or urban - shared one important characteristic:
it could not be held under freehold title. As a result "communal"
land could not be sold or mortgaged.
It is important to point out that until the early 1980s, black
Namibians could not obtain title to any land, whether urban or
rural, communal or commercial. In a very real sense, ownership
of land under freehold was reserved for whites until that time.
While freehold title could not be obtained in "communal" areas,
land tenure arrangements differed slightly for rural or agricultural
land and urban land.
Land tenure in rural areas
In terms of the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, all
communal land vests in and is formally controlled by the Government
of Namibia. In addition, the Constitution stipulates that all
land which is not 'otherwise lawfully owned' shall belong to the
All rural land in the communal areas is held and managed according
to customary tenure systems. Generally, land rights are allocated
by traditional leaders. With regard to residential and arable
land, an allocation confers use rights, usually for life. Upon
the death of the holder of a customary land grant, the rights
either revert back to the traditional leader for reallocation,
or are passed on according to terms of customary laws.
Access to grazing, while open to the entire community, is regulated
to a greater or lesser degree by customary range management rules.
As a result of population pressure, socio-economic changes, notably
the increasing commercialisation of production on communal land
and technological innovations, customary land tenure systems are
gradually being eroded. The most obvious manifestation of this
in many parts of the country is the privatisation of grazing land
This process is facilitated by the fact that customary land rights
are not protected by statutory legislation. Article 16 of the
Constitution protects the rights of Namibians' to acquire, own
and dispose of all forms of immovable and moveable property. Since
moveable and immovable property in the communal areas cannot be
owned and disposed of in a legal sense, the Constitution does
not protect customary rights in the same way as outright ownership.
In a very profound sense, then, people in the rural areas occupy
such land at the discretion of the state, with little or no protection
from statutory law.
It follows from this that customary land rights are not registered
in the formal registry. However, in some areas land records of
allocations made for enclosures by tribal authorities have been
established at the local level and are being maintained by the
tribal offices concerned.
When the Communal Land Act is fully implemented land administration
and land management will be controlled by Government.
Land tenure in urban areas
Urban settlements in Namibia only developed during the colonial
era. The process of establishing villages and towns was not uniform
in the country. Formal urban centres developed first in the central
and southern parts of the country. This was directly linked to
the pattern of colonisation and land dispossession. Access to
these towns by black Namibians was strictly controlled through
pass laws and a prohibition on property ownership by blacks. Only
white people could obtain freehold title to their plots.
In the northern communal areas formal urban areas did not develop
until the 1960s, and then mainly in response to the administrative
and military requirements of the colonial state. Similar to towns
in the south, urban areas in the northern communal areas were
effectively segregated, consisting for the most part of two separate
sections: one formal and fully serviced 'white town', and another,
less or undeveloped formal township for blacks, including informal
After independence these towns were proclaimed under the Local
Authorities Act, 1992. In terms of the Act, the entire town area
was registered in the name of the Government or a local authority.
The land is intended to be subdivided, serviced and sold to the
public to be held under freehold title.
Permanent structures in unproclaimed towns on communal land were
in most cases owned by the state. People, whether white or black,
had to rent these houses from the government. However, the South
African government had introduced a peculiar from of tenure which,
although falling far short of the security provided by freehold
title, provided more formal security than a customary allocation
or a rental agreement with the government. This form of tenure
became known as PTO, short for 'Permission to Occupy'. The PTO
system in urban area is almost replaced by freehold.
Co-existing with the system of PTOs and state owned property,
was the system of customary tenure. The security of tenure provided
by customary grants came under threat when local authorities were
established in terms of the Local Authorities Act in 1992. With
the proclamation of towns and the establishment of such authorities,
all land falling within the boundaries of these newly proclaimed
towns officially belonged to the government and was placed under
the jurisdiction of local authorities. Residents in the informal
settlements feared that their land rights would not be recognised
by the local authorities. After initial problems of working out
compensations for informal settlers who had to be moved, local
authorities now seem to accept informal settlers. However, they
would like to formalise these areas and grant formal rights to
residents on the land in order to collect taxes and charges for
utilities. Such moves are hampered, however, by inappropriate