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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


DU PISANI, J A. Land and transformation: historical context and outline of the process of land reform, 1994-2010. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2011, vol.51, n.2, pp.178-201. ISSN 2224-7912.

Land reform is a topical issue in South Africa. The ANC government has set a target of 30 per cent black land ownership by 2014. In the light of the manner in which land reform in Zimbabwe has been handled and the expropriation bill that was tabled in Parliament and then withdrawn, there is unease about the future of land reform among commercial farmers and agricultural unions. The first section of this article investigates the historical process of the allocation of land in South Africa, which resulted in gross inequalities on the basis of race. The consequences of the 1913 and 1936 land acts are discussed. Approximately 13 per cent of the land surface of South Africa was reserved for blacks, who constituted 70 per cent of the total population in 1936. Despite the findings of commissions of enquiry that more land was needed for the proper socio-economic development of rural blacks, the homelands policy in the apartheid period (1948-1994) was still based on the 1936 act (the Native Trust and Land Act). The approximately 17 million hectares of land allocated to the ten homelands, on which the different black ethnic groups were meant to develop into fully-fledged nations in independent states, were consolidated into 24 blocks of land. Despite sharp criticism the Vorster government in the 1970s refused to increase the size of the homelands. During the Botha government in the 1980s only minor additions were made to the land area of the homelands. The unwillingness of the apartheid governments to reopen the land issue and redistribute land on a more equitable basis destroyed the potential of the homelands to become economically viable and politically independent territories. This jeopardised the credibility of the idea of separate but equal development. In the second section of the article the urgent need for proper land reform by 1994 is expounded. Without land reform a more equitable distribution of income, social status and political power in South Africa would not be achievable. Therefore land reform was an integral component of the negotiations for a new political dispensation in the early 1990s. A firm commitment to a process of land reform, based on the restitution of land rights that had been alienated since the 1913 land act, was included in the Interim Constitution. An outline of the process of land reform from 1994 to 2010 is given in section three. Different options were available, but the new government decided to steer a middle course. The formulation of the land issue in the 1996 Constitution amounted to an ideal of a balance between existing property rights and the guarantee of land reform. The 1994 Restitution of Land Rights Act provided for the restitution of land rights and the establishment of a Commission on Restitution of Land Rights and a Land Claims Court. A land reform programme, consisting of restitution, redistribution of land, and the reform of the land tenure system, was launched. More than 79,000 land claims were submitted, of which about 75,000, involving more than a million people, had been resolved by the end of 2010. Land reform is a continuing process of which the final outcomes are unpredictable. The final section deals with the prospects of a generally acceptable solution to the land issue. A major challenge is to transform the occupation, ownership and use of land without destroying the environment and agricultural productivity. Land reform today, just like territorial segregation and homeland consolidation in the past, is still driven by an ideology based on race. As long as the race card is deemed necessary to get political support the race factor will impede land reform. Despite all stumbling blocks stakeholders should not lose sight of the ideal of a system of land rights which is equitable, non-racial and productive.

Keywords : Land; South Africa; territorial segregation; homelands policy; land reform; restitution; land tenure.

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