The big squeeze

Gauteng is rapidly running out of land

Dominic Mahlangu - Sunday Times

Gauteng - the country's smallest but most economically important province - is running out of space, with only 950km of land available for development.

This land - an 18th of the province 's surface - will have to be used to meet demands for housing and commercial and industrial development, as well as agriculture, roads and services.

To make matters worse, vast tracts of the land that are available are dolomitic and unsuitable for habitation or major developments.

The Gauteng "space race" is expected to push up property prices and lead to more high-rise buildings being built.

Experts say the province will reach capacity in about 20 years.

Gauteng, whose 8.8 million people produce about 40% of GDP, covers a total of 17 010km.


The land that is still available is about double the size of the 570km Pilanesberg Game Reserve. The city of Johannesburg, by comparison, covers about 1 644km.

The Gauteng Housing Department has disclosed that there are only 950km of land left within the borders of the province.

The department said this land was scattered across the province, most of it on the peripheries of Gauteng's three major municipalities.

With 434 informal settlements and a backlog of about 500 000 homes, Gauteng is being forced to look carefully at what land it has - and where it can house people.

Every year Gauteng attracts about 300 000 newcomers while the provincial government builds about 40 000 houses a year.

"The current scenario of developing new housing settlements as well as new commercial and industrial developments results in land being a resource that is competed for," says Gauteng housing spokesman Mongezi Mnyani.

He says alternative housing solutions being discussed include building high-rise structures and what, if anything, could be done with mine dumps.

"The growth and development cluster of the [Gauteng] executive council has embarked on a scientific exercise to determine answers to these questions.

"The results of this study should take another three months or so," says Mnyani, adding that the ownership of available land was also being studied.

Another housing spokesman, Dumisani Zulu, says Gauteng's rapid urbanisation is a major concern.

"The human flow to Gauteng draws people from as far as Nigeria, Zimbabwe and other African countries, but mostly from the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu-Natal; people who hope to strike it big in Gauteng.

"The logical result is the burgeoning of informal settlements all over Gauteng," Zulu says.

He says that the department also needs to assess how much of the available land can realistically be used.

Much of the corridor between Halfway House near Midrand to the southern outskirts of Pretoria are dolomite and, therefore, unsuitable, while the West Rand also has vast stretches of land with "geotechnical" problems.

No crisis

However, Nicole Trollip, engineering geologist at the Council for Geoscience, says the situation has not yet reached a crisis point.

"With the inflow of people to Gauteng, finding suitable land will always be a challenge."

"But people's living spaces might change in the next 15 to 20 years," Trollip says.

Erwin Rode, of Rode & Associates property economists and valuers, agrees there is as yet no need to talk about a crisis.

However, this was provided that all of the 950km of land could be used for medium-density housing, he says.

Ronald Ennik, of Pam Golding Properties, says cities grow naturally and that peripheral areas are also available for development.

"Demand puts prices up. So you find little pockets of high demand," he says.

Patrick Eriksson, geology professor at University of Pretoria, says an investigation is needed to determine the full extent of "problem land" in Gauteng.

Eriksson says it is impossible to rehabilitate dolomitic land but investigations need to be done to determine how much is suitable for habitation.

* Dominic Mahlangu - Sunday Times
   Additional reporting by Shanthini Naidoo