The Reinvention of Land Reform in South Africa

Watch/Listen Again Wednesday 10 May 2017 13:00 to 14:30
IDS, Room 221

Land reform, one of post-apartheid governments’ main transformatory programmes, has itself been transformed over the past twenty years, reflecting changing policy agendas and ideological positions. Initially defined by a focus on multiple livelihoods for the rural poor, land reform was soon transformed into a plan for the limited deracialisation of commercial agriculture rather than a process of restructuring to overcome agrarian dualism.

In recent years this has been moderated by a retreat from allocating private title while still pursuing the capitalisation of black farmers under state leasehold – itself a return to prior models of state trusteeship. The imposition of state control over farm size and production models has been revived, with a new insistence on ‘production discipline’.

In the midst of these changes, land reform has succumbed to dualistic thinking and exhibits long historical continuities in official government thinking about land allocation, tenure and the modernisation of African agriculture. While discursively framed as part of a radicalisation of the reform process, the redistribution process appears to be narrowing, shaped by a combination of state control, state neglect and elite capture.


Ruth Hall is a professor at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, and has worked on land reform, land rights and land governance in South Africa and beyond. She is a regional coordinator of the Future Agricultures Consortium, in partnership with IDS and others.



Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 9RE