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The South African property market can be confusing, but erf is just another word that is used to describe a smaller plot of land for private use.

The word erf is often used in the South African context to refer to and describe a plot of land which is intended for private use.

Erf meaning South Africa

The landscape, property values, and even property categorization in South Africa is often just as varied as the people who inhabit this beautiful country. And while there are many reasons to appreciate such diversity, the various uniquely South African terms that you may come across in this country’s property market can also be quite confusing and unclear.

One of the terms that often stumps newcomers is “erf” – a simple term that is used in both informal, formal, and legal settings.


Erf, just like many of the terms that South Africans use in their daily lives has taken on a slightly new meaning over the years. The word “erf” is actually an Afrikaans word that refers to one’s inheritance or a plot of land, which is usually only about half an acre in size.

This Afrikaans word comes from Middle Dutch, where ‘erf’ or ‘erve’ was akin to the Old High German word for inheritance, “erbi”.


While erf still carries its original meaning in the Afrikaans language today, the word has also taken on an official legal definition in South Africa. Legally, erf refers to a plot (or piece) of land which is registered in a deeds registry, and which can also include lots, plots and stands.

In fact, section 102 of the South African Deeds Registries Act of 1937 defines the word as “every piece of land registered as an erf, lot, plot or stand in a deeds registry, and includes every defined portion, not intended to be a public place, of a piece of land laid out as a township, whether or not it has been formally recognized, approved or proclaimed as such”.

Everyday Usage Cases/Examples

The word erf, as described in the above legal definition, can usually be used in place of any other word which describes a portion of land, not intended for public use. For instance, “he purchased the erf for a large sum, but it is really quite small”.

Additionally, you will commonly see the word erf used in conjunction with what is called an erf number, as in “erf 1452”. This is a unique number that is used to identify individual plots of land within a bigger township or subdivision. The word erf may also be accompanied by a descriptive word, such as “wet erf” or “dry erf”, which describe the condition of the erf, or it could be used in combination with another noun, as in “erf-holder”.