The improvements in the livelihoods of the land reform projects’ beneficiaries are quite limited.
Photo: Adetola Okunlola


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Following the end of apartheid, South Africa’s government set itself ambitious goals with a planned land reform. However, there have since been barely any changes in the country’s agricultural structure, and the positive impacts that were hoped for on rural livelihoods have hardly materialised. A critical assessment of 22 years of land reform policies.

Land grabbing over nearly 350 years of South African history saw the loss of key productive resources by indigenous populations and erosion of their rights to land and natural resources. Women’s land rights were severely undermined, especially in areas where land was held and governed within systems informed by custom. Social differences and inequalities based on a complex articulation of race, gender and class identities underpinned the unequal distribution of land and insecure rights to land. Post-apartheid land policies were intended to eliminate these structural inequalities. But in 22 years, land reform has barely altered the agrarian structure of South Africa, and has had only minor impacts on rural livelihoods. Around eight per cent of farmland has been transferred through restitution and redistribution, and 20,000 settled restitution claims have not been implemented. Why have the results of land reform been so poor?

Post-apartheid governments and their land reform policies

Phase I: Focus on poverty reduction. The first post-apartheid Government’s early vision of land reform emphasised multiple objectives: addressing dispossession and injustice; creating a more equitable distribution of land; reducing poverty and assisting economic growth; providing security of tenure; establishing sound land administration; and contributing to national reconciliation.

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