The Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act No 16 of 2013 (SPLUMA) provides the legal framework for allowable and preferred land use management and rights in South Africa. The Act provides the connection between spatial planning and planning that centres on land use management.

It furthermore, amongst other functions, has as purpose to provide structure for the coordination and monitoring of land use management systems. The Act also acts as framework for addressing imbalances and to ensure proper uniformity in the way that applications must be done and reviewed by the relevant authorities.

With the introduction of the Act, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform gained the right to introduce regulations in relation to the Spatial Planning & Land Use Management Act and to give information regarding the implementation of the regulations. These Regulations, in accordance with the SPLUMA, were published in March 2015 with the law coming into full effect in July of 2015.

The Act is important as it sets out the boundaries for developments and sets out the types of land uses and rights, which are allowed under the law. With the introduction of the Act many of the laws of the previous political time were repealed and more uniformity has been gained in the interpretation, application and implementation of developments.

With the introduction of SPLUMA, however, the traditional councils have seen a reduction in their powers as related to land use management and rights. Accordingly, the traditional councils may only conclude service level agreements with the specific municipalities in which they are operational and may only perform the functions as agreed upon in the SLA’s that they have concluded with the specific municipalities.

Should a traditional council not enter into an SLA with the municipality then the council must provide proof of their allocation of land in accordance with the traditional area customary law related to the land usage and development to an applicant – to make it possible for the applicant to submit the application for land development and usage in adherence with the specifications of the Regulations.

The above means that a traditional council can take over some of the land planning and usage powers of the relevant municipality if so empowered through the agreement. However, where no such an agreement exists the traditional council must provide evidence of the relevant land allocation in accordance with customary law.