Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry

Article excerpt

Abstract: Over the past decade, "land issues" have reclaimed centre stage in international development debates, with Hernando De Soto's influential work on land tenure and capitalism playing an important catalytic role. Post-apartheid South Africa has been highly visible in international discussions and debates about land reform, land tenure and land administration. The three major elements of land policy in South African, namely tenure reform in the former "homelands," restitution, and "market-based" land reform, have frequently been used as an example or model in discussions about land policy in other countries. South African land policy has frequently been used to draw contrasts with the highly publicised land reform policies in Zimbabwe. This paper will analyse the way in which the "South African model" has been deployed in debates about land and development. It will examine in particular the discussions and debates leading up to the World Bank's 2003 report "Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction," and the use to which South African examples and policies are put in the final report.



Since the mid-1990s, there has been an increasing focus on the role of land in promoting economic growth and poverty alleviation in the international academic and professional debates about development. [1] In a widely cited 1978 article in World Development, David Lehman pronounced the 1950s to 1970s wave of land reform as "dead."[2] Since the mid-1990s, however, land has been very much alive on the policy agenda of the international development industry.

The failure of macro-economic restructuring, which characterised the mid-1980s to mid-1990s "Washington Consensus," led to an increased emphasis on "second-generation" reforms and in particular on institutions, including land tenure generally, and specifically on tenure insecurity. Increased emphasis has been placed on the impact of extreme inequality on overall economic growth, especially in Latin America, and access to land and other assets has increasingly been seen as a key determinant of inequity (reflecting in part the extremely influential work of Amartya Sen). [3] The widely debated 2000 World Bank World Development Report--heavily influenced by Sen's approach--outlined three key areas for action in order to reduce global poverty: promoting opportunity, facilitating empowerment, and enhancing security. [4] Land reform was seen as a key element of "promoting opportunity," while security of tenure was seen as a key target element of "empowerment," especially in the context of making the legal system "more responsive to poor people."

The end of the Cold War and the sudden inclusion of the former Soviet bloc into the realm of international development gave further impetus to land policy issues, with the moves to privatise former collective farms and other production units, to (re) establish a land-market, and to provide restitution to former land-owners whose lands were seized in Communist era land reform initiatives. In addition to this renewed interest in land reform projects in international development debates, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was significant academic interest in issues of land and resource tenure. This was often as a result of increased social science research into environmental issues and the role of "communities" in natural resource management, especially in Africa and South Asia. Much of this work emphasised the complex and contested nature of land and resource rights and examined the social and historical setting of land and resource rights (for example see articles by Berry, Peters, Shipton and Goheen in the special 1992 edition of Africa). [5] In the African context, this academic work often critiqued previous land tenure reform programmes, for example the World Bank funded land titling programmes in Kenya, and conservation projects, especially the establishment of national parks and game reserves, from which farmers and herders were expelled. …

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