The Land Question in South Africa: 1913 and Beyond
Abstract and Keywords
Since 1913, the “land question” in South Africa has revolved around the major inequalities in access to and rights over land between the black majority and the white minority of the population, and how these disparities should best be understood and overcome. The roots of this inequality are commonly traced back to the promulgation of the Natives Land Act in June 1913, which provided the legal framework for the subsequent division of the country into a relatively prosperous white heartland and a cluster of increasingly impoverished black reserves on the periphery. Historians have cautioned against according this legislation undue weight within the much longer history of colonization, capitalist penetration, and agrarian change that has shaped modern South Africa. The spatial divide of white core and black periphery has, however, been central to the political economy of 20th-century South Africa. Beginning in the 1950s, the apartheid government attempted to maintain white hegemony, drive an urban–industrial economy, and deflect political resistance by turning these reserves into the ethnic “homelands” of African people. This involved increasingly repressive policies of urban influx control, population relocation, and the tribalization of local administration in the reserves.
Since the transition to democracy in 1994, the post-apartheid state has struggled to develop an effective land reform program that can address the crosscutting demands for land redistribution, local development, and representative government that this history has bequeathed. For many analysts, these ongoing challenges mean that “the land question” remains unresolved; for others it means that the question is itself in need of reformulation. In order to review these developments, a three-part periodization is used to organize the discussion: (1) the segregation era (1910–1948), (2) the apartheid era (1948–1990), and (3) the transition to democracy and the post-apartheid era that began in 1990.
The “land question” in South Africa since 1913 is a politically saturated construct that has generated a range of preferred answers in both scholarly and more popular accounts. It is intimately tied up with, but not reducible to, the history of 20th-century agrarian change, itself the subject of theoretical and policy debates. There is, however, general agreement that at its heart lies the persistent inequality in the distribution and security of land rights between the minority of South Africans classified as “white,” and the great majority who, despite ethnic differences, can be categorized broadly as “black.”1 These inequalities are commonly traced back to the Natives Land Act of 1913, a foundational piece of segregationist legislation on the part of the first all-white Parliament of the still very new Union of South Africa. The status of this act as a major historical reference point in the post-apartheid era was confirmed during the constitutional negotiations of the early 1990s, when it was agreed that racially motivated land dispossessions before June 19, 1913, the date the act was promulgated, would be excluded from the ambit of the post-apartheid land restitution program.2
In the commemorations marking the centenary of the Land Act in 2013, many political commentators referred to this legislation as the key moment when black South Africans were stripped of their land rights in a common South Africa and confined to impoverished reserves—a decisive episode in “the master narrative of loss and restoration” that has shaped the country’s commitment to land reform in the post-apartheid era.3 Thus, a posting on the official Website of the South African government stated that the 1913 Act “opened the door for white ownership of 87 percent of land, leaving black people to scramble for what was left.” The anonymous author continued:
Once the law was passed, the apartheid government began the mass relocation of black people to poor homelands and to poorly planned and serviced townships … This marked the beginning of socio-economic challenges the country is facing today such as landlessness, poverty and inequality.4
Historians have cautioned against this interpretation, pointing to the prior history of colonial dispossession as far more significant in determining the nature and extent of black land tenure in the early 20th century, along with the very uneven reach of the 1913 Land Act in the decades following its promulgation.5 Nevertheless, the legislation became the cornerstone around which the division of the country into a relatively well-resourced white heartland and an increasingly embattled black periphery was built over the course of the 20th century.
The act set aside just over 7 percent of South Africa as “native reserves,” with provision for the addition of more land over time. Subsequently, the Native Trust and Land Act of 1936 increased the amount of land reserved for “natives” to approximately 13 percent of the country, and it was on this foundation that the bantustan or “homeland” policy of the apartheid era was built, from the early 1950s. In this way, some two-thirds of the country—in the region of 82 million hectares—was reserved for the near-exclusive ownership of white farmers and agricultural companies, while African South Africans were progressively stripped of rights to land, residence, and citizenship outside their putative homelands.6 During this time, a historically distinct and politically less prominent process also led to the designation of 23 “coloured reserves” in then Cape Province; these reserves, established around several 19th-century mission stations, covered approximately 1 percent of the country, mostly in the semiarid Northern Cape.7
Given this history, the land question in 1994 was widely understood to revolve around ways to restore black South Africans’ rights over land—both in real terms, at household and community level, and, more metaphorically, over the country as a whole. But the transition to formal democracy and a constitutionally mandated land reform program has failed to dissolve the spatial legacy of a bifurcated countryside, or to assuage collective memories of dispossession. For many politicians and commentators, this shortfall means that the land question is far from resolved. For some it means that the question itself needs reformulating.
Land, it is routinely said, is both a material and a symbolic resource, but tracking how these dimensions have interacted and played out over the course of the 20th century, as well as what this history means for contemporary land policy, is a complex undertaking. Post-apartheid South Africa is not the agrarian country it was in 1913, when some 80 percent of a population of approximately 6 million was regarded as rural.8 Nevertheless, by 2015, a third of the country’s population (totaling an estimated 55 million)9 was still based in the countryside, concentrated in the former bantustans, and land for livestock and cultivation remains a concern in the livelihood calculations of thousands of households. At the national level, the persistent disparity in aggregated white and black land ownership continues to function as a potent indicator of white privilege and black social and economic marginalization. To this extent, the land question still demands resolution, if not simple answers.
What follows is an overview of this dense history across two distinct but intersecting domains. Its primary focus is the history of land access and ownership since 1913, and the associated contestations over its distribution, its use, its value, and its political control over time. Intertwined with this is the representation of this history in historical writings on “the land question,” and the relationship between scholarly and more directly political debates on land reform in the present. The first three sections review developments between 1913 and mid-2016, this three-part periodization working with significant political events to punctuate an unfolding narrative across a century of agrarian change as follows:
1. The segregation era from 1910 to 1948;
2. The apartheid era from 1948 to 1990;
3. The post-apartheid era from 1990 forward.
The fourth section briefly recapitulates key themes in the historiography of “the land question,” with a focus on debates since the 1970s.
Land in the Segregation Era, 1910 to 1948
The Land Dispensation on the Eve of the Natives Land Act
In assessing the importance of the 1913 Natives Land Act for South Africa’s land dispensation in the 20th century, historians have emphasized the need to understand what Jacob Dlamini calls the “pre-history” of this act.10 This means engaging with the complexities of the history of colonial conquest south of the Limpopo River in the 250 years preceding the act, beginning in 1652. While often depicted as a relatively simple morality tale—heroic resistance on the part of the colonized versus savage dispossession on the part of the colonizers—more ambiguous themes of accommodation, assimilation, stratification, and innovation thread themselves through this extended encounter as well.
By 1910, after the defeat of the two Boer republics in the South African War, the entire future South Africa had been brought under the suzerainty of the British crown, and white hegemony over the proto-nation’s governance institutions and natural resource base declared. Importantly, however, there were significant differences on the ground, reflecting not only variation in localized histories of colonization but also the influence of different ecologies and local economies. In a 2015 essay Colin Bundy has noted that “[a]s important as land lost was land retained, and the terms of its retention. Conquered kingdoms and chiefdoms were not displaced and dispersed … They remained largely intact, although subject to colonial or republican rule.”11 In addition, at the start of the 20th century, much land that was formally in white ownership was occupied by rural African communities with some degree of economic autonomy, while a small but politically important class of black landowners had emerged in parts of the Cape Province and Natal (where no formal legal barriers prevented this). In 1905, rights to own land were extended to “exempted” African men in the Transvaal as a result of a successful court application brought by the Reverend Tsewu, a man described by Dlamini as “a typical member of the mission-educated, Christianised elite that made up South Africa’s early generation of modern activists.” This was an elite “that swore allegiance to the British Crown” and was still hopeful of full political citizenship, for its members at least, in the impending Union.12
As Tsewu’s story attests, by this time new ideas about land and its products were in circulation, interacting with and impacting older communal values and the agrarian societies that nurtured them. Southern Africa’s incorporation into a global capitalist order, following the mineral discoveries of the latter half of the 19th century, involved not only a voracious demand for cheap black labor on the part of colonial mining bosses and industrialists, but also the opening up of new economic opportunities and social possibilities for some of the colonized. In 1972, Bundy published a seminal article on “The Emergence and Decline of a South African Peasantry,” which drew attention to the “substantially more positive response by African agriculturalists to market opportunities than has usually been indicated.”13 This response varied from “an adapted form” of traditional subsistence farming on the part of “hundreds of thousands” of African households, to the embrace of market-oriented production by a smaller group of households who “competed most effectively with white farmers.” This latter group, Bundy argued, constituted a new class of peasants—rural cultivators using family labor to satisfy household consumption needs and “meet the demands rising from … involvement in a wider economic system.”14 (The patriarchal relationships embedded in this division of labor were at this stage largely naturalized in analyses of agrarian change; it was only in the 1980s that feminist theory began to subvert gender-blind accounts of the past.)15
These developments did not mean that older affective relationships to land were abruptly replaced by more narrowly instrumentalist considerations. They did, however, signal the emergence of more individualized and exclusive notions of land ownership in sectors of African society. Along with this went new configurations of social status and new calculations about land itself as a commodity. At the same time, many white farming households were struggling to adapt to a more commercially oriented agricultural regime. The “scorched earth” tactics that the British deployed in the Boer republics during the South African War exacerbated the challenges they faced.16
The Natives Land Act of 1913
Bundy’s thesis, subsequently elaborated in his 1979 book, The Rise and Fall of a South African Peasantry, has been hugely influential in much academic work on the history of land and agrarian change.17 Anti-apartheid organizations have turned it into a potent narrative of a large and prosperous black peasant class abruptly snuffed out by the Land Act. In recent years, the idea of a vanquished peasantry has been modernized and metamorphosed within the African National Congress (ANC) government into a “class of black commercial farmers” that the Land Act destroyed and land reform must “rekindle.”18 This popularized account, however, overstates both the relative strength of the black peasantry and the importance of the Natives Land Act in the demise of African agriculture after 1913.
The passage into law of the Land Act on June 19, 1913, was certainly a politically significant assertion of white power in the new Union, but it was not a decisive moment in the history of black dispossession. That had already occurred. According to William Beinart and Peter Delius, “land alienation was neither the major intention nor the outcome of the Act”; rather, it was “an interim measure … to change the terms on which Africans could occupy white-owned land and to extend the areas reserved for Africans.”19 What the act did was demarcate some 9 million hectares20 (approximately 7.3 percent of the total area of the country) as “scheduled native areas,” and prohibit “a native person” from buying or renting land outside these areas, except with the permission of the governor general (representing the British monarch as head of state).21 A “native person” was defined in section 10 of the act as “any person, male or female, who is a member of an aboriginal race or tribe of Africa.” The act also prohibited non-natives from acquiring land in the scheduled areas, thereby, arguably, securing these lands against further alienation. The areas that were scheduled excluded more than 1.3 million hectares of African- and mission-owned land,22 as well as large areas under African settlement that were formally owned by the state or white landowners. In recognition that the initial allocation was inadequate, the act made provision for a Natives Land Commission to investigate additional land to add to the 1913 schedule.
In the 1970s and 1980s, social historians and radical economists differed on whose interests the 1913 Land Act was designed to serve—those of white farmers wishing to reduce black competition around land, labor, and markets or those of white mining bosses wanting to preserve the African reserves as labor reservoirs for the migrant labor system. The evidence favors the former position, though ultimately both groups benefited.23 Support for the act came from a coalescence of interest groups anxious to defend white hegemony in the countryside, justified by the principle if not the practice of territorial segregation.
The promulgation of the act had devastating consequences for some African sharecropper households, particularly in parts of the Free State. This was the locus of Sol Plaatje’s classic text, Native Life in South Africa, which documents the misery inflicted on tenant households evicted by their white landlords in its wake.24 However, this response was not generalized across the South African countryside. The act was not applicable in the Cape Province because it conflicted with the terms under which that province had entered the union.25 Furthermore, for a couple of decades, not insignificant numbers of Africans actively exploited the legal loophole that authorized the governor general to permit land purchases outside the scheduled areas; according to Harvey Feinberg, between 1913 and 1935 some 3,295 purchases of farms and lots were approved across all four provinces in this way.26 In addition, as Michelle Hay has shown for the Northern Transvaal, many African households continued renting from white landowners; “the extent of evictions was still limited, compared to what was to come in the 1940s,” while the control of tribal chiefs over communities living outside the reserves was often weak to nonexistent.27 Even in the Free State, African peasant households were producing maize on white-owned land into the 1920s.28
Nevertheless, the 1913 Land Act did send a clear message that the union’s all-white government was committed to a vision of South Africa as preeminently a “white man’s country.”29 The preceding debate among white politicians was one of the major provocations leading to the establishment of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC, as the ANC was originally called) in January 1912.30 Subsequently, the SANNC sent a delegation (which included Sol Plaatje) to London to petition the British crown against the legislation. Couched in the language of loyal British subjects, the petition was unequivocal in condemning the act as “subversive of all that is right”—“laden with dynamite tendencies, which mean agitations, scheming, upheavals, and conflicts in this land we love so much.” The petitioners did not, however, condemn segregationist thinking as such, nor did they begrudge “members of the white race … getting a share of the land.”31 Rather, they called for a land dispensation in which “natives should be put into possession of land in proportion to their numbers, and on the same terms and conditions as the white race.”32
At the inception of modern South Africa, then, the “land question” was central to the emergence of African nationalism as a new political force that transcended older ethnic divisions. However, at this stage, nationalists sought coexistence, not overt confrontation, with white society.
The Native Land and Trust Act of 1936
The Natives Land Commission established through the 1913 Land Act soon ran into fierce opposition on the part of white landowners who were unwilling to sacrifice their own farms to advance the general principle of segregation that they endorsed—a response which was to dog state land acquisition plans for the reserves throughout the 20th century. When it finally reported in 1916, the commission recommended adding a little over 7 million hectares to the scheduled areas across the four provinces.33 William Beaumont, the commission chairman, also commented on the obstacles to identifying land that would consolidate the reserves. Apart from the objections of affected famers, “reserves, mission lands, Native farms and other lands solely occupied by Natives are, with the exception of the Transkeian Territories, scattered in all directions and hopelessly intermixed with the lands owned and occupied by Europeans.”34
Conceding to the opposition to the commission’s work, the government appointed five local committees to review the proposals. They pared down the commission’s recommendation to below 6.5 million hectares.35 While the ruling South African Party accepted these revisions, it was unable to mobilize sufficient support to proceed in a fractious political climate. It was thus only two decades later, in 1936, when a white coalition government under Afrikaner nationalist General Hertzog was in office, that the Native Trust and Land Act (Act 18) was passed. This approved the addition of 6.2 million hectares to the areas scheduled in 1913—a total that was substantially below the Beaumont Commission’s original recommendations and would, once met, bring the area allocated to the African reserves to just over 13 percent of the country (see Figure 1). Some African-owned or settled land overlooked in 1913 now fell within the reserves but much did not, including 332 freehold farms that in the apartheid era became increasingly vulnerable to removal as “black spots” on a white map.36 The 1936 Act also established the South African Native Trust (later the South African Development Trust [SADT]) to acquire and administer the new “released” land, and tightened controls over tenant households on white farms.
Critically, the 1936 Land Act was made possible through a political trade-off within the white ruling elite. More land for the reserves came at the cost of the non-racial franchise in the Cape. The Native Trust and Land Act was passed in tandem with the Representation of Natives Act (Act 12), which abolished the nonracial franchise in the Cape and imposed a common legal framework for “native policy” over the entire country.37 This deal thus represented the triumph of white segregationist ideals and ensured that land and political rights could not be disentangled in mounting popular resistance to white minority rule from the 1940s forward.
The first half of the 20th century was a period of significant change in the political economy of South Africa. In 1911, mining at 27 percent and agriculture at 22 percent of national income dominated the economy.38 By 1950, agriculture was still a significant sector, accounting for some 16 percent of the “gross value” of economic activity, but the manufacturing and service sectors (at 23 percent and 48 percent, respectively) had overtaken both it and mining (at 11 percent).39
This period saw capitalist relations of production taking hold more firmly in agriculture. Although still hungry for cheap (black) labor, commercial farming was beginning to mechanize—the national tractor fleet, for instance, increased from just 6,000 in 1937 to over 20,000 in 1946.40 In this time, the state also initiated racially targeted support programs aimed at keeping marginal white farmers on the land and boosting farm revenues. These included special credit facilities, the establishment of Marketing Boards in the 1930s, and conservation measures aimed at reversing widespread land degradation.41 Racially skewed support systems saw productivity in “white” agriculture outstrip that in African areas, where evidence of social and economic distress was mounting.42 Yet a 1980 study by Charles Simkins found that agricultural production in the reserves had by no means collapsed. While per capita output was declining, total output “remained substantially constant between 1918 and 1955, declining rapidly only after that date.”43
During this period, the rate of black and white urbanization also diverged. Impoverished Afrikaner households moved off the land in significant numbers—between 1890 and 1936 the percentage of urbanized Afrikaners mushroomed from under 3 percent to 50 percent.44 By 1946, almost three-quarters of the white population was urban, compared to under a quarter of the African population (and 36 percent of the population overall).45 Nevertheless, a black working class was consolidating its presence in urban centers at this time. This, coupled with the demands of the manufacturing sector for a more stable and skilled workforce, prompted a reconsideration of urban policy in the ruling United Party in the postwar period. In 1948, the Native Laws (Fagan) Commission proposed policy changes that favored a more accommodating approach to black urban dwellers—a policy option that, had it prevailed, would have set the country on a very different trajectory from what transpired after 1948.46
The Apartheid Era, 1948 to 1990
The National Party’s Apartheid Policy
The National Party (NP) won the 1948 all-white parliamentary elections on a radical ticket of Afrikaner nationalism and white supremacy. Its 1947 apartheid manifesto committed the party to “preserving and safeguarding the racial identity of the White population” and “the general principle of territorial segregation of the Bantu and the Whites.”47 The extent to which the NP had a clear policy blueprint when it came to power has been debated,48 but central elements of its future program were identified in its election manifesto. These included the designation of the reserves as “the national home of the Bantu” (the latter term now misappropriated from linguistics to designate African people), and an indication that these territories could develop into “self-governing national units” over time. The manifesto also declared that “more ground for the Bantu in terms of the Act of 1936” would only come “after judicious consideration.”49 Although some analysts have emphasized the ideological continuities between the segregation and apartheid eras,50 the material and political differences with regard to land policy were significant.
One of the NP’s first acts in government was to pass the Population Registration Act (Act 30) in 1950. This transformed the largely informal sanctions that had policed the racial order in the segregation era into a “rigid system of race classification” that divided South Africans by law into “white,” “coloured,” “native” (and, later, “Indian”) groups, “based on appearance and general acceptance and repute.”51 Henceforth, people were locked into bureaucratically defined racial identities that dictated with whom they could be intimate, where they could live, what work they could do, what education they could aspire to, and how freely they could move about. That same year the Group Areas Act (Act 41) was passed, introducing a policy of enforced residential segregation in urban areas based on the racial zoning of areas for different “groups.” In the following decades, bulldozers flattened black and mixed neighborhoods in cities and towns across the country, forcing their residents into racial ghettoes on the urban periphery. Strong mobilization against the Group Areas Act in metropolitan suburbs such as District Six in Cape Town and Cato Manor in Durban placed the issue of urban land rights firmly on the national political agenda.52
The NP also turned its back on the Fagan Commission’s cautious recognition of African urbanization. In 1952, the pass laws system was overhauled and expanded to encompass all Africans, including women who until then had been largely exempt.53 Over the next few decades, the thrust of urban policy was to ensure that as far as possible, African people would enter the urban areas only if they had gainful employment—in the words of the Secretary for Bantu Administration in 1972, “because the whites need their labour”54—and then, as far as possible, on a temporary basis. Along with this went the establishment of a network of labor bureaus designed to control the migrant labor system more tightly and defend the conceit of territorial segregation that legitimized it.
The Bantustan Project from 1951
In the NP’s pursuit of the elusive goal of white domination with economic growth and political stability, the manipulation of space played a pivotal role. Central to the entire apartheid project was the political repositioning of the native reserves of 1913 and 1936 as not only the authentic but also the only homelands of the African majority. The first step was taken in 1951, with the Bantu Authorities Act (Act 68). This established a system of tribal, regional, and territorial authorities for the former reserves (briefly recast as “bantustans” before the more euphemistic “bantu homelands” was adopted).55 In this way, traditional leaders such as chiefs and headmen were co-opted as lowly functionaries of the apartheid state, accountable not to the people falling under them but to the “Bantu Commissioners” they served—a move that Mahmood Mamdani described in 1996 as a variant of the classic colonial strategy of indirect rule, in which the expedient of “tribe” supplanted that of “race.”56 Remarkably, this formalization of traditional institutions as local agents of the central state has been carried through into the post-apartheid period.
In 1959, the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act (Act 46) took the bantustan project a step further by dividing Africans into eight “national units” (North-Sotho, South-Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana, Swazi, Xhosa, Venda, and Zulu), each with its own “national” territory in which to develop under the tutelage of the apartheid state. The designation of the Ciskei as a separate homeland in 1961 and then of Kwandebele in 1979 brought the final number of apartheid-era bantustans to ten (see Figure 2). The 1959 legislation was followed in 1963 with the establishment of the Transkei as a prototype “self-governing territory,” with its own chief minister and a Legislative Assembly in which a majority of members—64 out of 109—were chiefs.57 The enabling legislation made clear the apartheid state’s long-term intention of using the bantustans to strip Africans of their broader South African citizenship, by defining Transkeian citizens as not only “all Africans … born in the Transkei or … legally domiciled there” but also all “those outside the area who derive from or are members of tribes resident in the Transkei.”58
In 1971, the Bantu Homelands Constitution Act (Act 21) extended the principle of bantustan-style self-government to the other homelands. In 1976, the Transkei was granted nominal independence, followed by Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981. In this way, several million African South Africans were legally stripped of their citizenship. In 1993, the estimated population of the “TBVC” states (as the “independent” bantustans came to be known) was just under 7 million, almost a quarter of the African population of some 30 million (out of a total of 39.5 million for the country as a whole).59
The unfolding logic of this balkanization strategy produced a series of bantustan consolidation plans in the 1970s, intended to impose greater geographical coherence on these fragmented lands.60 While ultimately falling short of what was proposed on paper, these plans involved the relocation of hundreds of small “black spot” communities, along with some “badly situated” reserves, onto land that the SADT was acquiring to meet the 1936 Land Act’s quota of land to be added to the reserves. In the complex of issues shaping decisions around which areas to prioritize for relocation, the level of local resistance became an increasingly important factor dating from the late 1970s. Macroeconomic and strategic considerations also entered the mix. The industrial port of Richards Bay on the Natal north coast, for instance, was built on Reserve 6, one of the original “Zululand” reserves that had been “scheduled” in 1913. Its deproclamation as African land to make way for this major infrastructural development led to the relocation of some 10,000 people in 1976.61
As the Richards Bay case illustrates, the NP’s apartheid project was an exercise in spatial engineering on a grand scale. In the mid-1980s, the Surplus People Project (SPP) estimated that some 3.5 million individual “removals” took place between 1960 and 1983 in furtherance of apartheid’s grand plan; another 1.9 million people were under threat of relocation at the time62 (see Table 1). These figures excluded the many millions affected by the “pass” laws underpinning urban influx control and by the coerced villagization schemes being rolled out in the bantustans under the rubric of “betterment planning.”
Table 1. Forced Population Removals under Apartheid, 1960–1983
CATEGORY OF RELOCATION
Eviction of farm workers and labor tenants from white commercial farms
Removal of landowners and tenants from expropriated African- or mission-owned farms (“black spots”) and the relocation of “badly situated” “native reserves” to consolidate the bantustans
Relocations for strategic and infrastructural projects, e.g., for military purposes or forestry and conservation projects
Removals in terms of the Group Areas Act
Relocation of African townships from “white” areas into the bantustans
Eradication of informal settlements in urban centers (incomplete data)
(*) The SPP report notes that its figure of 3.5 million refers to individual acts of removal, not to individual people as such, with some people experiencing more than one forced removal in this period.
Source: Surplus People Project (SPP), Forced Removals in South Africa: The SPP Reports, vols. 1–5 (Cape Town: The Surplus People; Pietermaritzburg: AFRA, 1983).
The brutality and scale of the relocation projects enforcing the apartheid agenda left a bitter legacy of dispossession and social dislocation that the post-apartheid land restitution program has struggled to overcome. In 1970, a book by Cosmas Desmond—The Discarded People—described the human cost of these removals in terms that evoked Sol Plaatje’s trip through the Free State in the wake of the 1913 Land Act some 55 years earlier.63 The scale of the apartheid-era removals was, however, far greater and the cumulative impact on socioeconomic conditions more damaging than anything envisaged by the advocates of segregation in the early 1910s.
A Divided Countryside
The apartheid era cemented the stark division of the South African countryside between white core and black periphery that the 1913 Natives Land Act had prefigured but failed to enforce. These years also shaped the relationship between town and country in enduring ways: ensuring that African households would retain ties to rural homes in the bantustans, despite their increasingly adverse conditions, and slowing down—but, significantly, not stopping—the rate of African urbanization outside the reserves. A 1981 analysis by Charles Simkins showed that the proportion of Africans in “white” metropolitan and rural areas dropped significantly between 1960 and 1980 but rose in the bantustans, where the population more than doubled from 4.7 to 11.3 million in this period.64 In 1988, Colin Murray described the apartheid state’s bantustan strategy as one of “displaced urbanisation” that was producing “huge rural slums” in the bantustans: settlements “which are ‘urban’ in respect of their population densities but ‘rural’ in respect of the absence of proper infrastructure and services.”65
Related to this was a precipitous decline in black agricultural production from the 1950s, which various coercive “land rehabilitation” projects by the state failed to stem. The core problem, that the available land was insufficient to sustain the numbers of people expected to live off it was one that the apartheid state refused to accept. In 1955, the NP’s Tomlinson Commission argued for a modernizing strategy to make the bantustans economically more viable. It proposed dividing the bantustan population between “a class of contented full-time Bantu farmers with holdings of sufficient size to enable them to farm profitably,” and a rural proletariat, to be employed via a state-driven industrial decentralization program.66 The NP rejected the commission’s recommendations, committing itself instead to a policy of “betterment planning” to rationalize land use still further. This villagization program built on conservation initiatives in the reserves dating from the late 1930s.67 It involved the relocation of many thousands of rural households into planned “closer settlements,” the redemarcation of family fields (in the course of which customary land rights were often extinguished), and enforced cattle culling to reduce stocking rates on communal grazing land. Simmering discontent around these measures flared up in major rural protests in Sekhukhuneland, Pondoland, and Natal in the late 1950s and early 1960s.68
In marked contrast, in the first few decades of apartheid rule white commercial agriculture enjoyed significant state support. The second half of the 20th century saw a consolidation of farming units, from more than 90,000 in 1971 to less than 60,000 in 1993, and a corresponding increase in average farm size and gross income.69 In 1964, the 1936 Land Act was amended to provide for the phased abolition of labor tenancy as an outmoded labor system (provoking unhappiness among farmers in agriculturally marginal areas, who objected to a fully waged system). As farming became more capital intensive, the total number of farm workers on white commercial farms declined from a peak in 1971 of a little over 1.5 million (permanent and temporary) to just over 1 million by 1993.70 Further increasing competitive pressure on commercial farmers, agricultural policy shifted toward greater deregulation and market liberalization from the mid-1980s, in part a response to the escalating economic and political crisis facing the apartheid state by this time.71
The Land Question and Popular Resistance
The assault on black and especially African rights after 1948 galvanized the ANC and its Congress Alliance allies into a phase of more radical resistance in the 1950s. In 1955, the Congress Alliance adopted the Freedom Charter in a national campaign to mobilize its supporters and define the broad objectives of its anti-apartheid movement. This charter has remained an important political reference point for ANC policymakers in the post-apartheid era, in part because its poetic language makes it amenable to both nationalist and socialist interpretations. This is apparent in its provisions around land. The charter opens with a ringing endorsement of the principle of nonracialism: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.” Its land section continues with the radical declaration that “The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!” but elaborates upon this in language that is open to different interpretation: “Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger.” The charter also calls for state support for “peasants” and freedom of movement “to all who work the land.”72
The rural protests of the late 1950s and early 1960s led ANC leader Govan Mbeki to reflect on the significance of “peasant” resistance for “the struggle for national liberation.”73 Overall, however, the political attention of the ANC in the long years in exile and underground after 196074 was on the urban centers and the industrial working class. Yet the centrality of the bantustans to the apartheid project ensured that the land question could not be put aside, even if land and agrarian reform were not prioritized in ANC thinking beyond a general rhetoric around “socialization, nationalization and redistribution.”75 In the 1980s, a national network of land-rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) emerged within South Africa, allied to the United Democratic Front (UDF), which actively championed both individual community struggles against forced removals and the demand for land reform in a future democratic dispensation.76
The Post-apartheid Era since 1990
The Transitional Period, 1990 to 1994
The inauguration in 1994 of a painfully wrought constitutional democracy under President Nelson Mandela was a watershed in the history of South Africa. Eight-three years after the boundaries of the modern country were set, a Government of National Unity under the ANC was voted into office, and black South Africans finally attained their legal majority. Core features of the post-apartheid land reform program were, however, laid down in the volatile constitutional negotiations that followed the NP’s momentous decision to unban political parties in February 1990 and repeal the Land Acts, the Group Areas Act, and the Population Registration Act—the central pillars of grand apartheid—in 1991.
In an attempt to stave off a more radical land dispensation, the NP government moved quickly to initiate a modest state-land disposal program in 1991, whereby communities could institute a claim for land dispossessed under apartheid, if that land was still in state ownership. This preemptive project exemplifies the unexpected continuities between pre- and post-1994 land policy that the negotiated transition to democracy produced. Its Commission on Allocation of Land (COLA) bequeathed both a backlog of unsettled claims and its senior bureaucracy to the post-apartheid Commission on Restitution of Land Rights (CRLR), thereby hobbling the CRLR’s institutional capacity in significant ways from the start.77 Arguably even more significant for future land policy was the enactment of the KwaZulu Ingonyama Trust Act by the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly, just days before the democratic elections of April 1994. This vested some 2.8 million hectares of KwaZulu land in the Zulu king, as sole trustee: a harbinger of the enhanced powers of traditional leaders over communal land that was to follow after 2000.78
Debates on the shape of the future land dispensation ebbed and flowed in the turbulent period leading to the adoption of the interim Constitution of South Africa Act (Act 200) in 1993.79 While securing white property rights was a key concern for the NP, the ANC entered the negotiations with a general presumption among its members that it would insist on a radical redistribution program. In the event, its leadership soon abandoned calls for the nationalization of land in favor of a more moderate set of minimum demands. The considerations behind this shift were aired as early as 1989 by Zola Skweyiya (who went on to chair the ANC’s Constitutional Committee) at a workshop on “a new agrarian democratic order” in the Netherlands. His paper highlighted the importance of commercial agriculture for national food security and acknowledged that “the balance of power … between the liberatory forces and the present ruling elite” would determine outcomes, thus implicitly recognizing that the ANC was not the all-powerful force its supporters wanted to believe it was.80 Land-sector NGOs and rural claimant groups were frustrated by this move to the center and demanded a Bill of Rights that would recognize the rights of people “who were forcibly removed from their land.”81
The Property Clause
The outcome of the constitutional negotiations was a property clause that is widely acknowledged as a compromise—a judicious compromise for some and a betrayal of the liberation struggle for others. The precise wording of the compromise was one of the last issues to be agreed upon in finalizing the interim constitution under which the elections of April 1994 were held. These provisional formulations were subsequently refined in section 25 of the final constitution (Act 106 of 1996), which, despite calls for its amendment, has remained intact since then. This section opens with a general provision that offers a significant guarantee to property owners: “No one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application, and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property.” Section 25(2) then shifts the focus to land reform by permitting state expropriation of property “for a public purpose or in the public interest,” with land reform specifically identified in s25(4) as in the public interest. This provision is qualified by the requirement that expropriation must be “in terms of a law of general application” and “subject to compensation.”
The issue of compensation is itself qualified by the requirement that it “must be just and equitable, reflecting an equitable balance between the public interest and the interests of those affected”; the “circumstances” to be considered in determining this quantum include not only the market value of the property but also its current use and history.82 The remaining subsections return to land reform, directing the state to take steps “to redress the results of past racial discrimination” and identifying three specific obligations: (1) fostering equitable access to land, (2) promoting tenure security for those “whose tenure of land is legally insecure,” and (3) enacting legislation to provide for land restitution for those unjustly dispossessed of “property” after June 19, 1913.83 In this way, the parties to the constitutional negotiations acknowledged South Africa’s 20th-century history of land dispossession and endeavored to strike a balance between restitutive and redistributive justice, on the one hand, and reconciliation rather than retribution for the beneficiaries of that history, on the other.84
Of note is that the constitution did not mandate the market-led land reform policy subsequently adopted by the ANC in government, in which the “willing buyer/willing seller” principle took precedence over the option of expropriation with compensation. According to Edward Lahiff, this principle “entered the discourse on land reform gradually during the period 1993–96” and was “in line with the wider neoliberal … macroeconomic strategy adopted by the ANC in 1996.”85 In its 1997 White Paper on Land Reform Policy, the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) justified this policy choice in terms of concerns that a more radical expropriation program would impact negatively on “the land market and investment in South Africa.”86
Post-apartheid Land Reform to 2009
The primary focus of land reform during Nelson Mandela’s presidential term was on establishing the institutions and developing an overarching policy framework in order to give content to the broad constitutional mandate laid down in 1993 and 1996. The DLA interpreted this to require establishing land redistribution, tenure reform, and land restitution as three separate programs, the first two under the DLA, the latter under a separate commission, the CRLR. Tellingly for the advocates of agrarian reform, land policy was developed largely in isolation from agricultural policy. The institutionalization of land restitution was further complicated by the fact that the CRLR was financially dependent on the DLA, exacerbating debilitating internal conflicts.87 Initially, all restitution settlements were subject to the judicial oversight of the Land Claims Court, making for a particularly cumbersome process.88 The unexpected flood of urban claims also caught officials oriented toward land reform as a rural issue off guard.89 This required engaging with urban local government and complex urban dynamics, creating additional challenges.90
Ambitious time frames were laid down in this period. In 1994 the ANC set itself a target (first proposed by the World Bank in 1993) of redistributing 30 percent of white-owned agricultural land (approximately 24.5 million hectares) to black smallholders within five years.91 With regard to land restitution, the DLA’s “Draft Land Policy Principles of 1995” proposed a period of three years to lodge all claims, five years for their adjudication, and ten years for all settlement orders to be implemented.92 Soon after it took office in 1995, the CRLR set the cutoff date for the lodgment of claims as mid-1998, later extended to the end of that year. Progress toward these goals was, however, frustratingly slow. By 1999, just 41 of the more than 60,000 claims then reported as lodged had been settled (although many more were under investigation);93 subsequent claim audits, which boosted the total tally to close to 80,000 claims, made the task appear still more daunting.94 The land redistribution program, characterized at that stage by a strong pro-poor ethos and large group settlement projects, was also struggling to make inroads on its targets. Tenure reform legislation intended to secure the customary land rights of households and rural communities was essentially stalled.
Analysts proposed a range of reasons for this poor performance, including poor policy choices, inadequate budgets, weak capacity in the new state institutions established to manage the process, difficult community dynamics among land reform beneficiaries, recalcitrant white farmers, and an overall lack of political will on the part of the central government.95 Consistently small budgets certainly positioned land reform as a minor program of government, albeit one imbued with a “powerful political charge.”96 While fluctuating over the years, its share of the national budget never exceeded 1 percent. In the 2014 budget, the total allocation to the then–Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) was less than a third of that allocated to the Department of Human Settlements for national housing delivery,97 a disparity that reflected the far greater urgency that the state accorded the desperate housing backlog in urban areas.
Concerns about the failures of delivery were used to justify a repositioning of land reform during the Mbeki presidency after 1999. This saw a turn away from the pro-poor priorities of the first five years of democracy and a greater rapprochement between the government and organized commercial agriculture. Beginning in 2000, the land reform program actively favored more commercially oriented aspirant farmers; productivity, measured in terms of market participation, became the new catchphrase. In that year, the Land Reform for Agricultural Development (LRAD) program introduced a sliding scale for state grants to land reform beneficiaries that was biased toward those able to leverage additional funding of their own. During this time. the DLA started backtracking on the date by which 30 percent of white-owned land would be transferred into black ownership, pushing it back first to 2008, then to 2014.98 However, it staunchly defended the 1998 cutoff date for lodging restitution claims.
Beginning in 2000, the Mbeki government also began developing a policy framework for tenure reform and local government in the former bantustans that favored traditional leaders as the custodians, hence managers, of communal land. In 2003, the Traditional Leadership Governance and Framework Act (Act 41) was passed, followed by the Communal Land Rights Act (Act 11) in 2004. This revalorization of bantustan institutions, which most analysts had assumed would disappear with apartheid, provoked strong opposition among land-rights groups, leading to a Constitutional Court challenge that saw the Communal Land Rights Act declared unconstitutional in 2010.99
Land Reform under the Zuma Presidency from 2009
Land reform since 2009 has seen the consolidation of policies favoring black commercial farmers in the former white countryside, alongside the consolidation of the “turn to tradition” in the former bantustans: a striking reenactment of apartheid-era divisions that Aninka Claassens has described as enabling “power-sharing deals between central government and local actors,” including “traditional leaders, and politically connected business people who have amassed substantial wealth as beneficiaries of the “Black Economic Empowerment” (BEE) quotas required by the post-apartheid government.”100 These developments have been accompanied by an intensification of populist rhetoric and a plethora of midlevel policy pronouncements on rural development and property relations, but no coherent national framework to replace the DLA’s 1997 White Paper, and scant progress on advancing constitutional goals.101
In 2011, the director-general of the DRDLR reaffirmed that “achieving equitable distribution of land remains a fundamental policy of government,” but argued that “there is an even more urgent need to ensure that land reform is measured not only through equity, but also through productivity leading to enhanced food security for all, job creation and skills training amongst beneficiaries and black farmers.”102 In 2016, most agricultural land was still in white hands, although the precise extent was disputed and the proportionate share of white landowners had certainly declined since 1994. By the end of March 2016, the post-apartheid land reform program had secured just over 8 million hectares of land for redistribution to black South Africans103—approaching 10 percent of the area owned by white commercial farmers under apartheid and thus substantially short of the ANC’s initial target of 30 percent. National statistics on land that has passed into black ownership through the market are not readily available, although one agricultural economist has offered a “guesstimate” of some 3.5 million hectares transferred through private transactions by 2014.104
By 2016, the restitution program was in even greater disarray. In 2014, an amendment to the Restitution of Land Rights Act was rushed through Parliament ahead of the national elections. This reopened the land claims process for a further five years, precipitating a rush of new claims that the state applauded as a vindication of its decision,105 and that critics warned would overwhelm fragile institutional systems.106 By March 31, 2016, well over 140,000 new land claims had reportedly been lodged107—a sobering number when compared with the approximately 80,000 claims lodged before 1999, the large numbers of those claims still “outstanding” (more than 20,000 in late 2013), and the slow rate (several hundred a year) at which they were being settled. Included among them were several substantial claims by traditional leaders for large swaths of land they claimed as historically theirs.108 Then in July 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that the amended act was unconstitutional, because Parliament had failed to consult the public properly on it, as it was constitutionally required to do. This court action was initiated by a land-rights NGO on behalf of some 50 claimant communities from the first restitution phase who were concerned that the amended act did not offer their claims sufficient protection against new claims under the reopened restitution process. In its judgment, the court affirmed the “pivotal role” of land restitution in South Africa’s constitutional democracy, while suspending the reopened restitution process for two years, “pending the re-enactment by Parliament of the Amendment Act or finalisation of those claims filed by 31 December 1998.”109
The Land Question in South Africa in 2016
Twenty-two years after the transition to democracy, the persistent racial inequalities in aggregate land ownership remained a politically potent marker of more general discontents. The explosion onto the political scene of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in 2013, with its loud denunciations of “white capital” and calls for the nationalization of land without compensation, has kept the issue in the spotlight. At the same time, the continuities between apartheid-era bantustan governance and rural administration in what are now described as communal areas are disconcerting for those who fought for democracy, as are the extent of rural poverty and the failures of land policy to “rekindle” a vibrant black smallholder class.
Yet the limitations of the quest to restore an elusive past through the resolution of the land question are also being revealed. It is increasingly evident that the significance of land has changed enormously over the years, with consequences for land policy that many policymakers and politicians are struggling to absorb. By 2015, almost two-thirds of the population (65 percent) was classified as urban,110 mostly living in cities and towns in the 87 percent of the country formerly designated as “white.” Indicative of the associated shift in household priorities, some 64 percent of a nationally representative survey conducted in 2012 agreed with the proposition that land redistribution was a necessary form of redress, but most respondents did not place land reform among the top challenges that they thought the country faced. Rather, unemployment and then crime and insecurity, poverty, HIV/AIDS, corruption, service provision, education, and affordable housing were the main concerns.111 The lack of a generalized demand for land as a productive asset is most clearly visible in the restitution program, where the majority of claimants have opted for financial compensation rather than the restoration of the land they are claiming, despite the state’s insistence that land restoration is the more “proper” outcome. In March 2016, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform ruefully noted that most land claim settlements since 1994 have involved financial compensation rather than land, with most new (post-2014) claimants also expressing a preference for their claims to be settled through financial compensation.112
Of course, this does not mean that there is no demand for agricultural land, nor potential for a black smallholder class to make a significant contribution to rural development, given appropriate support. Ben Cousins, among others, has argued that there are some 200,000 to 250,000 black smallholder households who “against all the odds, … produce crops and livestock for sale in markets” and should be the primary beneficiaries of a revitalized program of land and agrarian reform.113 But the reduced household demand for land overall reflects fundamental shifts in South Africa’s agrarian structure since 1913. Thus, argues Henry Bernstein, while “the crisis of social reproduction in, and beyond, the countryside” in contemporary South Africa requires a radical redistribution project, “the land and agrarian questions may be only a modest part of the project,” despite their historical weight.114
Yet in the absence of the radical redistribution project that Bernstein invokes, the land question is likely to continue resonating as a measure of current inequalities and symbol of future well-being. What this confirms is the extraordinary discursive power of “land” as a signifier of both material resources and collective identity (family, clan, community, nation), and thus a tenaciously unsettled matter of concern in contemporary South Africa, more than a century after the passage of the Natives Land Act.
Discussion of the Literature
A central debating point in the historiography of the land question since the early 1970s has been the relative significance of class dynamics, on the one hand, and racial ideology and ethnic identity, on the other, in shaping the history of land; an interest in gender relations, often reduced to a concern with the status of women, has been a minor though not unimportant strand twisting through these debates. Several of the key texts in the historical literature have been identified in the preceding sections. This discussion briefly recapitulates three overlapping themes in the historiography: (1) what accounted for the adoption of the reserve policy in the early 20th century and its further elaboration under apartheid, (2) what the significance and the fate of the African peasantry was at the turn of the 20th century, and (3) how to understand the land question in contemporary South Africa.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a robust debate emerged among a new generation of radical scholars about the significance of the 1913 Land Act in the transition to a predominantly industrial and fully capitalist economy; echoes of this debate still reverberate throughout contemporary debates on the challenges of post-apartheid land reform. The key figure here was Harold Wolpe, who argued that the bantustan policy of the apartheid state was driven by the need to maintain the native reserves as the site of reproduction of the (cheap) migrant labor system, in the interests of capital. From this perspective, the 1913 Natives Land Act was passed to shore up the reserves. The capacity in the precapitalist economy of the reserves to reproduce migrant workers, on which the earlier phase of capitalist development in South Africa had depended, was exhausted by the 1940s, however, thus requiring more overtly coercive interventions after 1948 to sustain the migrant labor system.115 A debate within this debate concerned which “fraction” of capital the act favored—agricultural or mining/industrial (“maize” or “gold”). While political economists such as Mike Morris claimed that mining capital was dominant in shaping the policy agenda after union, social historians such as Beinart and Delius argued that “the Natives Land Act largely met the needs of agrarian capitalism and white landowners.”116
As already noted, Wolpe’s account has been extremely influential though criticized for being overly functionalist and overlooking the importance of African agency in resisting proletarianization.117 Undoubtedly the native reserves were central to the migrant labor system and, in the apartheid era, provided the justification for stripping away the rights of the African majority. However, Beinart and Delius have cautioned against the presumption that the 1913 and 1936 Land Acts were mere precursors to the subsequent apartheid land policy. They have also cautioned against overly teleological interpretations that see the 1913 and 1936 Land Acts as leading inexorably to apartheid. In 1984, Belinda Bozzoli criticized Marxist analyses that failed to recognize the significance of African patriarchy and male control over women’s labor in the genesis and reproduction of the migrant labor system.118 Mahmood Mamdani’s distinction in 1996 between tribal “subjects” and modern “citizens” also redirected attention to the political dimensions of the apartheid project. This has been taken up in more recent analyses of the continued salience of traditional institutions, for instance, Lungisile Ntsebeza’s study, Democracy Compromised, first published in 2005.119
The importance of Colin Bundy’s thesis on the rise and fall of a South African peasantry, first published in article form in 1972, has also been acknowledged here. This fixed the idea of the Land Act of 1913 as a defining moment of dispossession in popular accounts, an idea that acquired renewed political salience through the constitutional negotiations that culminated in 1993, when its promulgation was identified as the cutoff point for restitution claims. The extent to which this legislation destroyed an independent black peasantry and put a decisive end to black land acquisition has, however, been challenged by historians and economists who (as described in previous sections) have pointed to a far more protracted and uneven process of decline.
Although my introductory overview points to the issue of restoring the rights of the black majority to rural land as the central concern of “the land question,” the meanings ascribed to the phrase have differed throughout the 20th century. For some analysts it is closely tied to the agrarian question.120 For others it is more intimately bound up with “the national question” and the relationship between land and political nationhood for the black majority: a position that has come to the fore in post-apartheid debates. In their edited book published to mark the centenary of the Natives Land Act, Fred Hendricks, Lungisile Ntsebeza, and Kirk Helliker identify with this position, but also acknowledge the range of issues that contemporary land policy must address. Importantly, they suggest that it may now be more useful to talk of land questions, rather than the land question as one all-encompassing concern.121
In recent years, a concern with environmental history has also attained a larger degree of legitimacy in academic circles, as global concerns around a gathering ecological crisis have filtered into southern African studies. An important text here is William Beinart’s 2003 study, The Rise of Conservation in South Africa.122 Divergent emphases are evident in current debates. While conservation ecologists are attempting to link land and agrarian studies with work in the natural sciences,123 a growing body of case studies looks critically at conservation discourses that have been used to dispossess rural black communities from protected areas and/or private land converted to game farming.124
Historical Records, Constitutional Negotiations and General Commentary
Aliber, Michael, Themba Maluleke, Tshililo Manenzhe, Gaynor Paradza, and Ben Cousins. Land Reform and Livelihoods: Trajectories of Change in Northern Limpopo Province, South Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2013.Find this resource:
Beinart, William, Peter Delius, and Stanley Trapido, eds. Putting a Plough to the Ground: Accumulation and Dispossession in Rural South Africa 1850–1930. Johannesburg: Ravan, 1986.Find this resource:
Bundy, Colin. The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry. 2d ed. London: Heinemann, 1988.Find this resource:
Claassens, Aninka, and Ben Cousins, eds. Land, Power and Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa’s Communal Land Rights Act. Cape Town: UCT Press, 2008.Find this resource:
Cousins, Ben, and Cherryl Walker, eds. Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century. Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2015.Find this resource:
Cousins, Ben, Henry Bernstein, Bridget O’Laughlin, and Pauline E. Peters, eds. “Agrarian Change, Rural Poverty and Land Reform in South Africa Since 1994.” Journal of Agrarian Change 13.1, special issue, 2013.Find this resource:
De Klerk, Michael, ed. A Harvest of Discontent: The Land Question in South Africa. Cape Town: Institute for Democracy in South Africa, 1991.Find this resource:
Desmond, Cosmas. The Discarded People. Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1970.Find this resource:
Hall, Ruth, ed. Another Countryside: Policy Options for Land and Agrarian Reform in South Africa. Bellville: PLAAS, University of the Western Cape, 2009.Find this resource:
Hebinck, Paul, and Charlie Shackleton, eds. Reforming Land and Resource Use in South Africa; Impact on Livelihoods. London: Routledge, 2011.Find this resource:
Hendricks, Fred, Lungisile Ntsebeza, and Kirk Helliker, eds. The Promise of Land: Undoing a Century of Dispossession in South Africa. Johannesburg: Jacana, 2013.Find this resource:
James, Deborah. Gaining Ground: “Rights” and “Property” in South African Land Reform. Abingdon: Routledge-Cavendish, 2007.Find this resource:
Lipton, Michael, Michael de Klerk, and Merle Lipton, eds. Land, Labour and Livelihoods in Rural South Africa. 2 vols. Durban: Indicator Press, University of Natal, 1996.Find this resource:
Mamdani, Mahmood. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Colonialism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.Find this resource:
Marks, Shula, and Cherryl Walker, eds. “Reflections on the 1913 Land Act and Its Legacies, 1913–2013.” Journal of Southern African Studies 40.4 (2014): 655–779.Find this resource:
Mbeki, Govan. South Africa: The Peasants’ Revolt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964.Find this resource:
Murray, Colin. Black Mountain: Land, Class and Power in the Eastern Orange Free State 1880s to 1980s. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992.Find this resource:
Ntsebeza, Lungisile. Democracy Compromised: Chiefs and the Politics of Land in South Africa. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005.Find this resource:
Ntsebeza, Lungisile, and Ruth Hall, eds. The Land Question in South Africa: The Challenge of Transformation and Redistribution. Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2007.Find this resource:
Plaatje, Sol. Native Life in South Africa, Before and Since the European War and the Boer Rebellion. London: P. S. King, 1916.Find this resource:
Platzky, Laurine, and Cherryl Walker. The Surplus People: Forced Removals in South Africa. Johannesburg: Ravan, 1985.Find this resource:
Surplus People Project (SPP). Forced Removals in South Africa: The SPP Reports. Vols. 1–5. Cape Town: The Surplus People; Pietermaritzburg: AFRA, 1983.Find this resource:
Van Onselen, Charles. The Seed Is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, A South African Sharecropper 1894–1985. Cape Town: David Philip, 1996.Find this resource:
Walker, Cherryl. Landmarked: Land Claims and Land Restitution in South Africa. Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2008.Find this resource:
Wolpe, Harold. “Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in South Africa: From Segregation to Apartheid.” Economy and Society 1.4 (1972): 425–456.Find this resource:
(1.) The term “black” is contested and its usage ambiguous. It may be used either, as here, in an expansive sense, to refer to all people not classified as white under apartheid (hence, including people otherwise designated as “colored” or “Indian”) or in a more restricted sense, to refer to the majority of the population claiming descent from one of the original bantu-speaking societies of precolonial southern Africa. In the colonial period, this grouping was designated “native,” a term replaced over time by “African,” as well as the apartheid-specific and widely abhorred designation “Bantu.” In this article I use “black” in the expansive sense and “African” in the more restrictive sense, while acknowledging that this usage comes with its own ambiguities.
(2.) Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 200 of 1993, section 121(3).
(3.) On “the master narrative,” see Cherryl Walker, “The Limits to Land Reform,” Journal of Southern African Studies 31.4 (2005): 805–824.
(5.) See, for instance, William Beinart and Peter Delius, “The Historical Context and Legacy of the Natives Land Act of 1913,” Journal of Southern African Studies 40.4 (2014): 667–688; Colin Bundy, “Casting a Long Shadow: The Natives Land Act of 1913 and Its Legacy,” in Umhlaba 1913–2013: Images from the Exhibition Commemorating the Centenary of the Natives Land Act of 1913, exhibition catalog (Bellville: PLAAS, University of the Western Cape, 2015); and Harvey M. Feinberg, Our Land, Our Life, Our Future: Black South African Challenges to Territorial Segregation, 1913–1948 (Pretoria: UNISA Press, 2015).
(6.) South Africa is approximately 122 million hectares in extent. The area reported as under “commercial agriculture” has fluctuated over the years but in 1996 was approximately 82,210,000 hectares, according to Statistics South Africa, Agricultural Surveys 1994, 1995, 1996, Report no. 11-01-01 (Pretoria: Statistics South Africa, 1996), Table 1.
(7.) Space constraints prevent a review of this history here. See Peter Carstens, The Social Structure of a Cape Coloured Reserve (Cape Town and New York: Oxford University Press, 1966).
(8.) The 1911 national census put the urban population at 18.2 percent of the population; see Ivan Turok, “Urbanization and Development in South Africa: Economic Imperatives, Spatial Distortions and Strategic Responses,” Urbanization and Emerging Population Issues Working Paper 8, October 2012 (London: International Institute for Environment and Development), 3.
(9.) Statistics South Africa, “Mid-year Population Estimates 2015,” Statistical Release P0302 (Pretoria: StatsSA, 2015), 1.
(10.) Jacob Dlamini, “The Land and Its Languages: Edward Tsewu and the Pre-history of the 1913 Land Act,” in Land Divided, Land Restored, ed. Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, 40–55 (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2015).
(11.) Bundy, “Casting a Long Shadow,” 15.
(12.) Dlamini, “The Land and Its Languages,” 42, 40.
(13.) Colin Bundy, “The Emergence and Decline of a South African Peasantry,” African Affairs 71.285 (1972): 370.
(15.) Significant here was Belinda Bozzoli, “Marxism, Feminism and Southern African Studies,” Journal of Southern African Studies 9.2 (1983); see also Cherryl Walker, ed., Women and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945 (Cape Town: David Philip, 1990).
(16.) On this history and associated concerns around white poverty, see Herman Giliomee, The Afrikaners; Biography of a People (Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2003), 320–328.
(17.) Colin Bundy, The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry, 2d ed. (London: Heinemann, 1988). The book was first published in 1979.
(18.) South African Government, “Rural Development and Land Reform Approves R204 Million Rands Funding for Emerging Farmers,” July 8, 2015.
(19.) Beinart and Delius, “Historical Context and Legacy of the Natives Land Act,” 667–668.
(20.) Muriel Horrell, Legislation and Race Relations (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1971), 3.
(21.) The Natives Land Act (Act 27) of 1913.
(22.) Figures from the Natives Land Commission, in Laurine Platzky and Cherryl Walker, The Surplus People: Forced Removals in South Africa (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1985), 85.
(23.) For a review of this debate, see Beinart and Delius, “Historical Context and Legacy of the Natives Land Act,” 681; see also Feinberg, Our Land, Our Life, 19–21.
(24.) Sol Plaatje, Native Life in South Africa, Before and Since the European War and the Boer Rebellion (London: P. S. King, 1916).
(25.) This recognized its qualified but formally nonracial franchise that enfranchised a small group of black men who met the criteria with regard to education and property ownership. Before 1930, no woman, white or black, had the vote.
(26.) Feinberg, Our Land, Our Life, 69, 70. According to Feinberg, this number excludes additional purchases in the Cape Province after February 1917.
(27.) Michelle Hay, “A Tangled Past: Land Settlement, Removals and Restitution in Letaba District, 1900–2013,” Journal of Southern African Studies 40.4 (2014): 750.
(28.) Beinart and Delius, “Historical Context and Legacy of the Natives Land Act,” 674, citing Helen Bradford, A Taste of Freedom: The ICU in Rural South Africa, 1924–1930 (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1988), 36.
(29.) For the deployment of this term at this time see Giliomee, The Afrikaners, 296.
(31.) “Petition to King George V, from the South African Native National Congress, July 20, 1914,” clause 19(f) and clause 9.
(32.) “Petition to King George V,” clause 9.
(33.) Calculated from the figure of 8,365,744 morgen reported in Feinberg, Our Land, Our Life, 38.
(34.) The Chairman of the Commission, William Beaumont, to the Minister of Native Affairs, quoted in Feinberg, Our Land, Our Life, 38.
(35.) Platzky and Walker, The Surplus People, 87.
(36.) Platzky and Walker, The Surplus People, 90.
(37.) The enfranchisement of white but not black women in 1930 had already diluted the electoral significance of qualified African male voters in the Cape.
(38.) Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seekings, “The Economy and Poverty in the Twentieth Century in South Africa,” CSSR Working Paper No. 276, Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town, July 2010, 4.
(39.) South African Reserve Bank, “South Africa’s National Accounts 1946–2009,” Quarterly Bulletin (March 2010): 3.
(40.) Stefan Schirmer, “Motives for Mechanization in South African Agriculture, c 1940–1980,” African Studies 63.1 (2004): 13.
(41.) Schirmer, “Motives for Mechanization,” 5; William Beinart, The Rise of Conservation in South Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
(42.) See Platzky and Walker, The Surplus People, 93.
(43.) Charles Simkins, “Agricultural Production in the African Reserves of South Africa, 1918–1969,” African Studies Seminar Paper No. 090, March 1980, African Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1980, 11.
(44.) Giliomee, The Afrikaners, 323.
(45.) William Beinart, Twentieth Century South Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), Table 3, 263, citing national census data.
(46.) On this, see Helen Suzman, A Digest of the Native Laws (Fagan) Commission (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1948). This “digest” was reissued in 1952.
(47.) “Race Relations Policy of the National Party,” pamphlet issued by the National Party Head Office in late 1947, ahead of the May 1948 general election. Apartheid is an Afrikaans word that translates literally as “apartness.”
(48.) See Deborah Posel, The Making of Apartheid 1948–1961: Conflict and Compromise (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991).
(49.) “Race Relations Policy of the National Party.”
(50.) On this, see Harold Wolpe, “Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in South Africa: From Segregation to Apartheid,” Economy and Society 1.4 (1972): 425–456.
(51.) Horrell, Legislation and Race Relations, 9.
(52.) On District Six, see John Western, Outcast Cape Town (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); for a brief overview of the history of Cato Manor, see Cherryl Walker, Landmarked: Land Claims and Land Restitution in South Aftrica (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2008), 149–154.
(53.) For an account of women’s experiences of migration to the Rand, see Belinda Bozzoli, with Mmantho Nkotsoe, Women of Phokeng: Consciousness, Life Strategy, and Migrancy in South Africa, 1900–1983 (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1991). The small minority of Africans deemed “permanent” urban residents still had to carry documentation to prove their status in town.
(54.) Quoted in Platzky and Walker, The Surplus People, 106.
(55.) Critics have continued to use the term “bantustan” pejoratively, to signal their political distance from the apartheid project.
(56.) Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Colonialism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).
(57.) Horrell, Legislation and Race Relations, 24.
(60.) For detailed accounts, see The Surplus People Project (SPP), Forced Removals in South Africa: The SPP Reports, vols. 1–5 (Cape Town: The Surplus People and Pietermaritzburg: AFRA, 1983). The Surplus People Project was a largely volunteer group of young researchers who produced a five-volume report on forced removals across South Africa in 1983. Platzky and Walker subsequently reworked this into a book, on behalf of the project.
(61.) SPP, Forced Removals, vol. 4, 139.
(62.) Platzky and Walker, The Surplus People, 10–11.
(63.) Cosmas Desmond, The Discarded People (Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1970), 23.
(64.) C. E. W. Simkins, “The Distribution of the African Population of South Africa by Age, Sex and Region-Type 1960, 1970 and 1908,” SALDRU Working Paper No. 32, January 1981, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town, 1981, 19–23.
(65.) Colin Murray “Displaced Urbanisation,” in South Africa in Question, ed. John Lonsdale, 110–133, 116 (London: James Currey, 1988).
(66.) “Summary of the Report of the Commission for the Socio-economic Development of the Bantu Areas within the Union of South Africa,” UG 61/1955, quoted in Joanne Yawitch, Betterment; The Myth of Homeland Agriculture (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1981), 28.
(67.) Beinart, The Rise of Conservation, 359.
(68.) On this see Govan Mbeki, South Africa: The Peasants’ Revolt (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964); Thembela Kepe and Lungisile Ntsebeza, eds., Rural Resistance in South Africa: The Mpondo Revolts after Fifty Years (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011); and Peter Delius, A Lion among the Cattle: Reconstruction and Resistance in the Northern Transvaal (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1996).
(69.) Michael Aliber, Mompati Baiphethi, and Peter Jacobs, “Agricultural Employment Scenarios” in Another Countryside? Policy Options for Land and Agrarian Reform in South Africa, ed. Ruth Hall, Table 6.2, 136, 133–163 (Bellville: PLAAS, University of the Western Cape, 2009).
(71.) Nick Vink and Johan van Rooyen, Deregulation of Agricultural Marketing in South Africa: Lessons Learned (Sandton: The Free Market Foundation, 2000), n.p. [Section 3].
(73.) Govan Mbeki, South Africa: The Peasants’ Revolt, 128–129, quoted in William Beinart, “The Mpondo Revolt through the eyes of Leonard Mdingi and Anderson Ganyile,” in Rural Resistance in South Africa, ed. Kepe and Ntsebeza, 91.
(74.) Both the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned in the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960.
(75.) Heinz Klug, Constituting Democracy: Law, Globalism and South Africa’s Political Reconstruction (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 125.
(76.) For a history of one of these organizations, AFRA, see Anne Harley and Romy Fotheringham, AFRA: 20 Years in the Land Rights Struggle 1979–1990 (Pietermaritzburg: Association for Rural Advancement, 1999).
(77.) See Cherryl Walker, “Finite Land: Challenges Institutionalising Land Restitution in South Africa, 1995–2000,” Journal of Southern African Studies 38.4 (2012): 809–826.
(78.) See Centre for Law and Society, “Land Rights under the Ingonyama Trust,” Factsheet, February 2015, Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town, 2015.
(79.) For details on the political maneuvering around land in the transitional period, see Matthew Chaskalson, “Stumbling towards Section 28: Negotiations over the Protection of Property Rights in the Interim Constitution,” South African Journal of Human Rights 11.2 (1995): 222–240; and Klug, Constituting Democracy; Walker, Landmarked, 50–69.
(80.) Zola Skweyiya, “Towards the Solution of the Land Question in Post-apartheid South Africa: Problems and Models,” paper presented at a workshop, “Towards a New Agrarian Democratic Order,” University of Wageningen, The Netherlands, November 12–14, 1989.
(81.) “Open Letter to the Multiparty Negotiators at the World Trade Centre,” 1993, quoted in Walker, Landmarked, 60–61.
(82.) The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996, section 25(1)–(4).
(83.) The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996, section 25(5)–(9).
(84.) On the issue of retribution and the property clause, see Michael Aliber, “Unravelling the ‘Willing Buyer, Willing Seller’ Question,” in Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century, ed. Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, 145–160 (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2015).
(85.) Edward Lahiff, “‘Willing Buyer, Willing Seller’: South Africa’s Failed Experiment in Market-Led Agrarian Reform,” Third World Quarterly 28.8 (2007): 1577–1597, 1580.
(86.) Department of Land Affairs (DLA), White Paper on South African Land Policy (Pretoria: Department of Land Affairs, 1997), vii.
(87.) On this, see A. du Toit et al., “Report: Ministerial Review of the Restitution Programme” (Bellville: PLAAS, University of the Western Cape, n.d. ), and Walker, “Finite Land.”
(88.) In 1999, the Restitution of Land Rights Act was amended to give the Minister of Land Affairs administrative powers to approve claim settlements where there were no disputes among the parties.
(89.) Figures for 2007 indicate that 82 percent of the 80,000 claims were urban, the majority of them individual/family claims. See Walker, Landmarked, Appendix 1.
(90.) For a discussion on the complexities of negotiating urban restitution, see Christiaan Beyers, “Reconciling Competing Claims to Justice in Urban South Africa: Cato Manor and District Six,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 34.2 (2016): 203–220.
(91.) African National Congress, The Reconstruction and Development Programme: A Policy Framework (Johannesburg: African National Congress, 1994), 22.
(92.) Walker, Landmarked, 9.
(93.) “Timeline of Land Dispossession and Restitution in South Africa 1995–2013”. The reliability of official figures is open to question. The claim figures are also difficult to translate into beneficiaries and land parcels because the total reflects claim forms lodged, thereby equating individual and large community claims and obscuring very different types of land rights.
(94.) See figures in Walker, Landmarked, Appendix 1, 242.
(95.) For discussion on this, see Ben Cousins, ed., At the Crossroads: Land and Agrarian Reform in South Africa into the 21st Century (Cape Town: OLAAS, University of the Western Cape, 2002), and Lungisile Ntsebeza and Ruth Hall, eds., The Land Question in South Africa: The Challenges of Transformation and Redistribution (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2007).
(96.) Bridget O’Laughlin et al,, “Introduction: Agrarian Change, Rural Poverty and Land Reform in South Africa since 1994,” Journal of Agrarian Change 13.1 (2013): 1–15.
(97.) National Treasury, Estimates of National Expenditure 2014, abr. (Pretoria: National Treasury, 2014), xiv.
(98.) For an overview, see Ruth Hall, “Who, What, Where, How, Why? The Many Disagreements about Land Redistribution in South Africa,” in Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century, eds. Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, 127–144 (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2015).
(99.) See Aninka Claassens and Ben Cousins, eds., Land, Power & Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa’s Communal Land Rights Act (Cape Town: UCT Press, 2008).
(100.) Aninka Claassens, “Denying Ownership and Equal Citizenship: Continuities in the State’s Use of Law and ‘Custom,’ 1913–2013,” Journal of Southern African Studies 40.4 (2014): 761–779.
(101.) On this, see Ben Cousins, “‘Through a Glass Darkly’: Towards Agrarian Reform in South Africa,” in Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century, eds. Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, 250–269 (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2015).
(102.) Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, Strategic Plan 2011–2014,Amended 2013 (Pretoria: Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, 2013) 4.
(103.) The total is calculated from the following sources: G. E. Nkwinti, “Speech by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform,Debate on the State of the Nation Address,” National Assembly, Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, Cape Town, February 21, 2013; Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR), Department of Rural Development and Land Reform Annual Report 01 April 2013–31 March 2014 (Pretoria: Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, 2014); Department of Rural Development and Land Reform Annual Report 01 April 2014–31 March 2015 (Pretoria: Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, 2015); Annual Performance Plan 2016/17 (Pretoria: Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, 2016); Commission on Restitution of Land Rights (CRLR), Annual Report 2013/14 (Pretoria: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, 2014); Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, Annual Report 2014/15 (Pretoria: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, 2015); Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, Annual Report 2015/16 (Pretoria: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, 2016); and Chief Land Claims Commissioner, Report to Ad Hoc Committee Oct 2013 (Pretoria: Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, 2013).
(104.) Mike Lyne, “Two Decades of Land Reform in South Africa: Insights from an Agricultural Economics,” Agrekon 53.4 (2014): 1–15, 3. The figure of 3.5 million hectares is derived from his “guesstimate” that the total area transferred to black people through both state programs and private sales was in the region of 12.5 million hectares, some 9 million of which were projected as the state’s share by 2014. This is not an insignificant amount—approximately twice the size of neighboring Swaziland)—but it fails to bring the area under black land ownership close to the 30 percent target.
(105.) Minister G. E. Nkwinti (MP), Budget Vote 39: Department of Rural Development and Land Reform 2015/2016 Financial Year: Budget Policy Speech (Pretoria: Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, 2015), 11.
(106.) See Cherryl Walker, “Sketch Map to the Future: Restitution Unbound,” in Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century, ed. Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, 232–249 (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2015).
(107.) Nkwinti, Budget Vote 39. 7. The actual number given was 143,720.
(108.) Walker, “Sketch Map to the Future,” 242–243.
(109.) Constitutional Court of South Africa, “Media Summary: Land Access Movement of South Africa and Others v Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and Others, CCT 40/15,” July 28, 2016.
(111.) B. Roberts, J. Struwig, and S. Gordon, “The Nation States …,” HSRC Review, March 11, 2013, reporting on the South African Social Attitudes Survey, 10–11.
(112.) Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights, Annual Report 2015/16, 11.
(113.) Cousins, “Through a Glass Darkly,” 266.
(114.) Henry Bernstein, “Commercial Farming and Agribusiness in South Africa since 1994,” in Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century, ed. Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, 104–119, 119 (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2015).
(115.) Wolpe, “Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power.”
(116.) Beinart and Delius, “Historical Context and Legacy of the Natives Land Act,” 680.
(117.) On this, see O’Laughlin et al., “Introduction: Agrarian Change, Rural Poverty,” 1–15.
(118.) Bozzoli, “Marxism, Feminism and Southern African studies.”
(119.) Lungisile Ntsebeza, Democracy Compromised: Chiefs and the Politics of Land in South Africa (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005).
(120.) Ben Cousins et al., eds. “Agrarian Change, Rural Poverty and Land Reform in South Africa Since 1994,” Journal of Agrarian Change 13.1, special issue (2013).
(121.) Fred Hendricks, Lungisile Ntsebeza and Kirk Helliker, eds., The Promise of Land: Undoing a Century of Dispossession in South Africa (Johannesburg: Jacana, 2013).
(122.) Beinart, The Rise of Conservation in South Africa.
(123.) See Timm Hoffman, “Environmental Change in Twentieth-Century South Africa & Its Implications for Land Reform,” in Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century, ed. Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, 56–67 (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2015); and Paul Hebinck and Charlie Shackleton, Reforming Land and Resource Use in South Africa (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011).
(124.) See, for instance, Marja Spierenburg and Shirley Brooks, eds., “Private Game Farming and Its Social Consequences in Post-apartheid South Africa: Contestations over Wildlife, Property and Agrarian Futures,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 32.2 (2014).