Answer to a question from a reader

How much does it cost to register for a Permission to Occupy (PTO) certificate?

The short answer

There is no agreed price for a PTO.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

How much does it cost to register for a Permission to Occupy (PTO) certificate?

The long answer

Perhaps we should start by asking what a PTO is.

A PTO certificate is granted by the government to a person living on certain rural and unsurveyed land, and it gives permission for the person to live on a particular plot of land. It confirms in writing that the land being occupied in terms of the PTO was lawfully allocated to the holder of the PTO. The PTO does not mean the person has bought that piece of land, as it is tribal land.

The PTO is not a title deed registered at the Deeds Office, and it cannot be transferred to anyone else. The PTO also lapses when its owner dies, and so cannot be inherited in a deceased estate. 

The PTO will not be accepted as security or collateral by the banks so you can’t take out a home loan against it.

Although it cannot be passed on to your children when you die, it is recognised as a real right and you cannot be evicted from the land unless there is a court eviction order. That means that PTOs must still be issued by the tribal authorities until such time as a new system of giving rural people more secure rights is put into place.  

How do you get it?

You would need to approach the traditional leader in the area where you have your rural stand and ask what the procedure is to get a PTO certificate for your stand. Depending on where you live, there might be different ways of getting the PTO certificate. For example, previously in KwaZulu-Natal, the traditional leader would give you a written recommendation to the KZN Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) department, as well as a site inspection certificate and a sketch of the site. All these documents would have to be submitted to KZN COGTA, which would then issue the PTO.

The PTO certificate must have the full name and signature of the tribal chief. It must say where the stand is and how big it is. 

The problem is that the PTO certificate is not supposed to have a price, because no land is being sold. But currently, these stands are being sold for exorbitant amounts, while no ownership is registered anywhere in respect of the stand owner. 

But this is also being contested: 

In November 2022, the Dullah Omar Institute published an article describing how the Limpopo High Court had ruled that the Bakgaga Traditional Authority was not allowed to allocate land and issue PTOs without the municipality’s approval.

The municipality said it was the owner of parts of the farm which the Bakgaga Traditional Authority had sold. The municipality said the traditional authorities were enriching themselves unlawfully at the expense of law-abiding citizens who were waiting for land allocation by the municipality.

The court decided that the land belonged to the municipality. But, asked the Dullah Omar Institute, what if the land did not belong to the municipality? Could the Traditional Authority just make any commercial deals that they wanted to? Could it decide to sell land to developers to put up luxury houses and malls as it saw fit? The Institute said the answer was no, because whether the municipality owned the land or not, all proposed developments had to be assessed against the municipality’s integrated development plan (IDP) and spatial development plan. So, even when it does not own the land, the municipality may still intervene and block such developments on the basis of its municipal planning power.

Francinah Sebati, who was head of the Morena Seaka Home Owners' Association which was heavily involved in the demarcation and selling of sites, denied that the money paid by the occupiers was for buying sites. She said that the Association had agreed with the people that their contribution would be R5,000 for clearing the area and legal costs, but denied that they were selling plots.

But News24 saw documents which showed that the initial price for a site was R2,500 and then it shot up to R120,000 in 2019. Advocate Audrey Gwangwa said that people should watch out as although large sums of money are requested as a purchase price for these properties, no transfer of ownership takes place. Members of the Association appear to be facing fraud charges according to reports from 2022.

So to come back to your question: although stands are being sold for exorbitant prices by some traditional authorities, there is no agreed price for a PTO. What is agreed is that a PTO, while a real and valid right, should not be confused with actual legal ownership of the land.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on April 20, 2023, 11:55 a.m.

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