3 words to secure land tenure with South Africa’s Department of Rural Development

At the end of October 2015, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) South Africa, Gugile Nkwinti, launched the “One Household, One Hectare” programme. The plan is to allocate a one hectare allotment to every needy household to enable them to cultivate and grow vegetables and fruits sufficient to feed their families. Each beneficiary will receive a certificate describing the location of the parcel of land.


But how to describe a parcel of land where there are no street addresses? Landmark based descriptions are not accurate enough and latitude longitude, GPS, and coordinates are unwieldy to use and prone to significant errors in transcription and communication.

To solve this DRDLR is piloting the use of 3 word addresses to identify the centre point of  each of the land parcels. what3words is an addressing and location reference system based on a global grid of 57 trillion squares of 3mx3m; each square has a unique pre-assigned 3 word address. The system is available via what3words and third party apps and sites and is built into a number of global GIS platforms. 3 words are easier to remember and communicate and the system is quick and cost effective to implement. The system works offline, with no data connection, and has error detection built in.

The 3 word addresses will be added onto the certificates, which will allow individuals and communities to talk about the location of their particular plot. It will also allow government workers to identify and navigate to these plots when they are in the field administering the programme.

“We want to make sure that we are bringing dignity to people living in rural areas. We are rekindling the class of black small farmers and fighting the scourge of poverty.” Guile Nkwinti, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform.

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