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The Politics of Land Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa, 1990 to 2004: A Shifting Terrain of Power, Actors and Discourses

by Ruth Hall in 2010

This thesis investigates how, why and through what processes the programme of land redistribution evolved and changed in South Africa between 1990 and 2004. Through document analysis, in-depth interviews and participant observation it traces the evolution of policy and investigates the actors and networks involved in formulating and challenging policy, and the policy discourses that they adopted and employed, and through which interests were defined and pursued. This period witnessed two policy cycles through which land reform, initially defined by a focus on multiple livelihoods for the rural poor, was transformed into farmer settlement for „emerging‟ black commercial farmers, pursuing a limited deracialisation of commercial agriculture rather than a process of restructuring to overcome agrarian dualism.

The thesis identifies two distinct discourses through which policy was contested: one about rights, justice and economic restructuring, and the other about growth, markets and economic efficiency, and depicts how actors came together to form „discourse coalitions‟. Those who made, interpreted, and used policy followed patterns of thinking and doing that had historical roots, reviving discourses and imagery that in previous historical cycles of policy were used to defend against expanded black settlement in the white commercial farming regions, and notions of proper farming which underpinned policies from the Glen Grey Act in the nineteenth century through to Betterment planning in the twentieth. Transcending political divides was a deeply-felt antipathy towards state planned and state-implemented resettlement among South Africa‟s activists and new bureaucrats who had witnessed the ravages of forced removals, villagisation and Betterment, which converged with the suspicion of state intervention among the „market‟ believers. Although ostensibly adopted as part of rural restructuring, the remaking of land redistribution in South Africa may be understood as a continuation of a modernising ideology that has long historical roots.