Land Reform in South Africa: The Conversation That Never Took Place

By Makombe, Godswill | The Qualitative Report, June 2018 | Go to article overview

Land Reform in South Africa: The Conversation That Never Took Place


Makombe, Godswill, The Qualitative Report


Introduction

Between 1948 and 1991 South Africa was under Apartheid. Apartheid was a cruel regime which institutionalized separate development between the races. It sought to make the black population second class citizens by systematically limiting access to resources responsible for upward social mobility. Table 1 shows how effective the discriminatory policies were. In 1994, at independence, in South Africa, 95 percent of industry was under the control of whites (Bromley, 1995). As shown in table 1, this was characteristic of nearly the whole economy. One can conclude that the Apartheid South African economy was created for the very few white people (Bromley).

The discriminatory laws by the Apartheid government in 1913 (The Native Land Act) and in 1936 (The Native Land and Trust Act No. 18) resulted in a situation where by 1980 only 50,000 white farmers owned 90 percent of agricultural land (Bradstock, 2005; Fraser, 2008). In fact, as a result of these two statutory instruments, whites owned 87 percent of the land and the majority blacks only 13 percent (Davis, 2011; Obeng-Odoom, 2012). Most of the land owned by blacks was largely located in the former homelands, where 75 percent of the black population was forcibly placed (Obeng-Odoom). Besides the fact that the homelands have been dismantled, the pattern of land ownership has not changed much (Logan, Tengbeh, & Petja, 2012).

Although there are some researchers, like Pringle (2013) who analyse the situation quite differently and therefore reach a different conclusion, there is little disagreement among development experts that the highly skewed land distribution in South Africa needs to be addressed (Davis, 2011; Mendola & Simtowe, 2015). This agreement is not only among experts. Cousins (2013) writes that most South Africans probably agree that there is need to resolve the land question one way or another. Logan et al. (2012) argue that there is concurrence that land reform is crucial to the development of, not only South Africa, but sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

Mendola and Simtowe, (2015) emphasize the fact that the purpose of land reform is to increase land access to poor rural households so as to reduce inequality and poverty because, as they argue, for many developing countries, land is a critical component of wealth and its creation. It is this supposed link between asset ownership (land) and wealth building that has been of interest to economists (Sikor & Müller, 2009). A brief survey of literature shows that this interest has led to different types of land reforms all over the world. In Scotland, the 1999 creation of the Scottish Parliament ignited interest in land reform (Sikor & Müller, 2009). Bromley (1995), Bobrow-Strain (2004), Sikor and Müller (2009), Lestrelin (2011), Skalos, Molnárová and Kottová (2012), Kemper (2015) and Mendola and Simtowe (2015) provide an overview of land reforms in Europe, South America, China, Soviet Union, South Asia and Africa. Logan et al. (2012) analyze land reform in SSA. Obeng-Odoom (2012) discusses the theory, practice and outcomes of land reform based on the cases of Ghana, Uganda and Egypt. Berge, Kambewa, Munthali and Wiig (2014) report on the impacts of lineage on land reform in Malawi, while Kudo (2015) describes land reform in Tanzania. Some land reform programmes were fully supported by the World Bank, such as in Egypt, Iran and Tanzania and some were only partially supported (and then not supported at all), such as Zimbabwe and yet some espoused to be market assisted, such as in South Africa before the declaration of expropriation.

Historically the state has led land reforms which normally involve redistribution of land from large land owners to landless and smallholders. Although there is a recent paradigmatic shift in land reform from state-led to community led land reform (Mendola & Simtowe, 2015; Sikor & Müller, 2009), the state still remains a main actor. The way the state acts is therefore paramount to the success or failure of land reform. …

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