Cadastre: Principles and Practice

April 1st, 2020

By Roger Fisher and Jennifer Whittal

Cape Town: South African Geomatics Institute (SAGI)

2020 1st edition

Price R 660 (including VAT)

860 pages (soft cover)

A book to equip property lawyers for the new land information system

Cadastre: Principles and Practice could not be timelier for conveyancers, surveyors and all land administration professionals. In 2019 the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture recommended immediate action for an integrated planning and land information system for all land data. At the time of writing this article, it is uncertain which aspects of this recommendation will be acted on, but it is inevitable that land reform system issues will become increasingly important. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution the way the big data for the new cadastre is structured will be critical for our future as a nation. Fisher and Whittal cover a wide range of inter-disciplinary issues not yet correlated in any other publication. It will be of great value for all stakeholders influencing land information and administration debates, as well as for those considering new applications under the Electronic Deeds Registration Systems Act 19 of 2019.

As explained in the book, a cadastre is the official record of landowners and the quantity and value of that land, which is used to calculate taxes and prove land rights and extents. In South Africa (SA) this has been achieved through the deeds registry and the offices of the surveyors-general, with conveyancers and surveyors the gatekeepers for the accuracy of these records in the past. This is unlikely to be the case for the broader functions of an integrated land information system. This makes it very important for both professions to contribute now to debates about potential changes. This book will prepare them to do so. The book has been written from the perspective of surveyors and interprets cadastral surveying law for the practice environment. However, it could be of even greater value for conveyancers and other land professionals, as it comprehensively covers all three of the essential elements of a cadastre, being the judicial system, land demarcation and boundaries, as well as professional land administration.

Since SA’s history is central to understanding current land reform measures, the book explains the historical roots of land tenure, ownership and rights in land, as well as how the cadastral system developed in SA to what it is today. Notably the book does not confine itself to the well-established environment of the deeds registry alone, it also covers the challenges and responsibilities of delivery of land rights based on customary law, de facto norms and practices, and other diverse forms of land tenure. This makes it highly relevant to new forms of tenure rights any integrated system will need to devise. This book explains current South African registry and surveying practices for title deeds, mineral and petroleum resources, coastal, offshore and underground areas, as well as the importance of accurate cadastral surveys and boundaries. The principles of land law and cadastral practice are all discussed in the light of contemporary land policy, land reform and land administration. Any land practitioner wishing to understand the key principles speaking into a national data portal and integrated land information system will find the book an extremely helpful overview.

At the launch of the Stellenbosch University School for Data Science and Computational Thinking Stellenbosch Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Wim de Villiers, commented: ‘The validation of data quality is very important, which can be a huge task in the age of “big data”, where information becomes difficult to handle because of sheer quantity’ (‘Big data a game-changer for universities’ Mail & Guardian 25-7-2019,, accessed 5-3-2020). In the lingo of computer science, the effect of ‘gigo’ – or ‘garbage in, garbage out’ – must be remembered: If your input is flawed, so will your output be. Any new data portal for land information will inevitably be used to analyse SA’s land relations. It is critical that the data on which this analysis is based is accurate. Land professionals are urged to read this book to equip themselves to speak into the successes and failures of past practices. It will prepare them to participate in debates about the advantages and disadvantages of an integrated and consolidated land information system.

Leslie Downie BA LLB (UP) Hons (English) (Unisa) MPhil (Geomatics) (UCT) is a legal practitioner and land information system specialist at Michalsons Attorneys in Cape Town.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2020 (April) DR 9.

De Rebus