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Land reform in post-apartheid South Africa: In transition?


THE PROCESS OF AFRICAN land dispossession in South Africa had already been completed by the time the political dogma of apartheid was adopted in 1948. This included the appropriation of African land by the colonial settlers, the creation of the Bantu reserves and later bantustans on less than 13 percent of the land, and the forced removals into the already over-crowded bantustans especially between 1960 and 1980.

By the end of the 1980s, the apartheid government, realizing that its days were numbered, embarked on a programme of reform and co-optation of the African middle class into the market economy.

Even before apartheid was officially declared dead in February, 1990, post-apartheid policies had been made to ensure that political victory or loss would not be accompanied by economic loss. Land reform proposals were premised on myths to discredit communal land tenure and to promote freehold tenure.

The abolition of the 1913, 1936 and 1945 Land Acts was accompanied by the enactment of The Abolition of the Racially-Based Land Measures Act and The Upgrading of Land Tenure Rights Act, both of 1991. The former Act not only preserved freehold tenure but prescribed a market-based land reform process - Africans could buy land in former 'white' race-space. The latter Act extended freehold tenure to Africans on tribal communal land.

Constitution Act 200 of 1993 provided for restitution of land rights to the dispossessed. This was meant to enhance reconciliation. Property rights were guaranteed and a market-based land reform endorsed. Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996 makes provision for labour tenants to purchase land. Thus, the apartheid government's mission was brought to conclusion.

The existence of Chieftaincy is provided for in the interim Constitution. However, the link between Chieftaincy and communal land tenure has been omitted. While all forms of tenure are recognized, the policy document on land reform emphasizes the upgrading of communal tenure.

The Green Paper on Land Reform was released in February, 1996 for public comment. The policies entailed herein have been implemented since 1991. An analysis of the policies and their implementation indicate that they do not address the demands of the potential beneficiaries, while they are vehemently opposed by the landowners.

The paper concludes that it is possible to have market-based land reform and achieve reconciliation by making the government the willing buyer of land for redistribution to the landless majority under tribal communal tenure.

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