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From freedom charter to cautious land reform - the politics of land in South Africa

Anseeuw W., Alden C.. 2011. Pretoria : University of Pretoria, 66 p.. (Research paper : University of Pretoria, Postgraduate School of Agriculture and Rural Development, 2011/1).

South Africa's celebrated transformation from apartheid to bastion of non-racial democracy has earned it an international reputation as a site of political plurality and market stability, underwritten by a liberal constitution. And yet, with the most biased land distribution in the region, South Africa is arguably the country with the most pressing land question and in many ways the one which is most intractable. Land reform was one of the main components of the ANC's agenda during its ascension to power. By stating that '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 Freedom charter presented land reform not only as a decisive element of South Africa's ideological transition, it is also seen as one of the conditions of political, economical and social stabilisation of the country. These motivations have however faded. Despite the high profile officially accorded to land and agrarian reforms by the 'new' South African government, little has been done to achieve the stated objectives. Not only was a less-extreme 'willing seller - willing buyer' land reform approach adopted, an overall lack of attention to the countries' land question(s) is patent. The latter did not manifest as a political challenge for the new government until the outbreak of violence in Zimbabwe. These events, coupled to the growing discontent amongst the growing ranks of unemployed and rural poor, pinpoint the ANC's policy lassitude and bureaucratic disarray, which could give way to a more forthright commitment to agrarian reform. This discussion paper analyses the politics of land in South Africa. It examines how South Africa's present leaders, who were claiming for the nationalization of land in the Freedom Charter during the liberation struggle, are presently supporting a cautious approach regarding land reform. It does so through a historical and regional political economy lens, enabling the analysis to scrutinize South Africa's contradictory position with regards to Zimbabwe within a framework of failed land reform and potential destabilizing popular discontentment. The intimate links between the established political economy of settler colonialism, transition to democracy and the concurrent fashioning of a liberal constitutional regime, all of which hold tremendously important implications for attempts to embark on agrarian reform, provides a framework for understanding the volatility inherent in the politics of land and, with that, the political structure of post-apartheid South Africa. The power of narratives and the changing discourses regarding South Africa's land issue - drawn from the settler state era, the liberation struggle itself and implicit in neoliberal policies pursued after democracy (and the results related to the latter) - shape the preferences and perspectives among elites, social groups and the wider population regarding land reform in the country.

Mots-clés : réforme agraire; politique foncière; système politique; utilisation des terres; politique économique; zimbabwe; afrique du sud

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