Fifty years of land use change in the Swartland Western Cape South Africa: characteristics causes and consequences

Journal Article


Journal Title

South African Geographical Journal

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

The Swartland is a largely agricultural region situated to the north of the greater Cape Town metropolitan area in the Western Cape, South Africa, and is known to have been subject to significant land use changes over many decades. This fertile land lies within the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape and has been used intensively for agriculture since European colonial occupation from the mid-seventeenth century onwards. Historically, the most prominent land use in the region was grain production, although there has been a substantial shift among many commercial farms in the region towards wine grapes. Quantitative assessments of the nature and extent of such changes, their underlying causal factors or, indeed, their environmental and economic impacts are lacking. This study presents an extension and re-evaluation of previous work in the region that considered land use change and its environmental implications (Meadows, Rahlao, & Dietrich, 2006) with the aim of providing a more detailed description of land use change in the Swartland during the period from 1960 to 2010 and to explore possible causes and implications of the observed changes. Five comparable sets of sequential aerial photographs for the Philadelphia area that may be considered representative of the broader Swartland landscape are analysed. GIS techniques are used to quantify the land use changes and the results show a marked recent shift from grain to grape, as well as a general increase in urbanization. The underlying structural causes of such trends are discussed and their possible environmental consequences are explored.