Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
HEYDENRYCH, P W. Land as a space of political contestation in South Africa. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.4, pp.489-502. ISSN 2224-7912.
The so-called "land question" is a well known theme in South African political discourse. Much has been written on the subject in recent times, but also in the historical development of South African politics. This article articulates thoughts concerning the political meaning of land by way of framing the land question as a space of political contestation in South Africa, simultaneously discussing it against a wider international background, acknowledging that the land question is not unique to South Africa and that it also relates to many historical and contemporary political struggles. It is suggested that such an approach possibly may contribute to contextualise the matter and to shed some of the emotional baggage that often pertains to it. The article contextualises land as political contestation while suggesting an interpretation of what politics is. Attention is afforded to the understanding of politics as conflict, but also as reconciliation and compromise against an underlying context of power and its purposes. The latter determining in what kind of country political actors would want to live and relating to interests and values that political actors hold in common. The possibility exists that if reconciliation and compromise are not possible, politics will come to an end, which will not contribute to a sustainable democracy or a solution to the land question. The broader conflicting nature of positions and understandings of the land question in South Africa is further highlighted within the context of political contestation, after which attention is afforded to the positioning of political actors within this contestation.The position of the government and political parties is highlighted within this conflict based framework, noting the different understandings of the land question as well as the commonalities that parties share. Reference is briefly made to non party political actors formal and informal) which represents the same conflictual positions, but which also alludes to other factors relevant to the land question whereafter these factors are highlighted. These include the broader social and economical issues (which are also understood as political), as well as an agricultural and rural bias in the land question, while it is also a matter of political and socio-economic rights within an urban context. The question is also asked whether solutions to the land question should not be found in a forward looking manner, rather than a romanticised understanding of land. The article concludes with a discussion in regard to the land question, when it is viewed from the perspective of political contestation, as defined in this article, as well as considering the possible outcome of the land question. A suggestion is made that consideration could be given to a re-negotiation of this space of political contestation, as land reform will remain unsuccessful if the politics thereof is not addressed; although this would also entail its own dangers for a democratic South Africa where democracy is not yet fully consolidated.
Keywords : land; land question; land reform; politics; political contestation; conflict; reconciliation; compromise; political actors; South Africa.