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"The Land Belongs To Those Who Work It": A Critical Evaluation of Land Redistribution Policy in South Africa, 1994-2012

Land ownership in post-apartheid South Africa carries a powerful symbolic charge for both black and white citizens. Under apartheid, state legislation denied black South Africans access to landownership rights, and confined them to 13 per cent of the available agricultural land. The election of the ANC government in 1994 marked the formal end of this process. Policies to provide access to land ownership to black South Africans were developed, raising widespread expectations for radical agrarian reform. The land reform policies of successive post-apartheid governments have, however, been unsuccessful in achieving any significant change to the overall proportions of land owned by black and white farmers, and the small amounts of land that have been transferred have failed to improve the lives of beneficiaries. In fact, the land ownership regime created under apartheid continues unchallenged in the post-apartheid era. This thesis seeks to investigate why successive democratically-elected governments with a mandate for reform have done so little to redress the entrenched inequality in land ownership. Informed by an anti-foundationalist ontology and an interpretive epistemology, this study focuses on processes of institutionalisation as they relate to both patterns of land ownership and the wider institutions of government inherited from the apartheid era that have continued to frame the policy process in South Africa. More specifically, the study adopts a ‘constructivist institutionalist’ approach to capture the way these institutions have been driven by a dominant discourse informed by apartheid-era values. It undertakes a multi-level institutional analysis, seeking to clarify the ideas underpinning the institutions and the discourses influencing the actors at the constitutional, national policy and provincial levels. The research involved examining key constitutional and policy documents and analysing interviews with key policy actors in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. The analysis identifies the international discourses on development and land reform that constructed what South African policymakers understood as ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ after 1994, and it traces how these discourses went on to inform the development of the property clause in the post-apartheid Constitution. The analysis also reveals how the shifting assumptions, silences and focuses of policymakers implicitly constructed the beneficiaries of such policies – the black landless – as incapable and undeserving. Finally, this study reveals a tacit agreement among the majority of the most powerful stakeholders that land redistribution policy cannot be allowed to fundamentally disturb the agrarian system created by apartheid policies. The research extends understanding of the South African land reform programme by identifying the discourses that inform contemporary policy and practice, with specific focus on the Settlement/Land Acquisition Grant (SLAG) policy, the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) policy, and the recently adopted Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS). There has been little scholarly analysis of PLAS, which seeks to provide leasehold access to approved beneficiaries who have the potential to purchase land at some point in the future. This research deepens scholarly understanding of PLAS, and the way the dominant land reform discourses continue to support the position of white large-scale commercial farmers and the emerging black bourgeoisie, at the expense of the interests and aspirations of the rural landless. It demonstrates why land reform has thus far failed to make meaningful changes to the agrarian system created by apartheid policies, and therefore failed to improve the lives of the rural landless.
Type of thesis
Mackenzie, G. R. (2015). ‘The Land Belongs To Those Who Work It’: A Critical Evaluation of Land Redistribution Policy in South Africa, 1994-2012 (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9895
University of Waikato
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