Land and transformation: Historical context and outline of the process of land reform, 1994-2010

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Land reform is a topical issue in South Africa. The ANC government has set a target of 30 per cent black land ownership by 2014. In the light of the manner in which land reform in Zimbabwe has been handled and the expropriation bill that was tabled in Parliament and then withdrawn, there is unease about the future of land reform among commercial farmers and agricultural unions. The first section of this article investigates the historical process of the allocation of land in South Africa, which resulted in gross inequalities on the basis of race. The consequences of the 1913 and 1936 land acts are discussed. Approximately 13 per cent of the land surface of South Africa was reserved for blacks, who constituted 70 per cent of the total population in 1936. Despite the findings of commissions of enquiry that more land was needed for the proper socio-economic development of rural blacks, the homelands policy in the apartheid period (1948-1994) was still based on the 1936 act (the Native Trust and Land Act). The approximately 17 million hectares of land allocated to the ten homelands, on which the different black ethnic groups were meant to develop into fully-fledged nations in independent states, were consolidated into 24 blocks of land. Despite sharp criticism the Vorster government in the 1970s refused to increase the size of the homelands. During the Botha government in the 1980s only minor additions were made to the land area of the homelands. The unwillingness of the apartheid governments to reopen the land issue and redistribute land on a more equitable basis destroyed the potential of the homelands to become economically viable and politically independent territories. This jeopardised the credibility of the idea of separate but equal development. In the second section of the article the urgent need for proper land reform by 1994 is expounded. Without land reform a more equitable distribution of income, social status and political power in South Africa would not be achievable. Therefore land reform was an integral component of the negotiations for a new political dispensation in the early 1990s. A firm commitment to a process of land reform, based on the restitution of land rights that had been alienated since the 1913 land act, was included in the Interim Constitution. An outline of the process of land reform from 1994 to 2010 is given in section three. Different options were available, but the new government decided to steer a middle course. The formulation of the land issue in the 1996 Constitution amounted to an ideal of a balance between existing property rights and the guarantee of land reform. The 1994 Restitution of Land Rights Act provided for the restitution of land rights and the establishment of a Commission on Restitution of Land Rights and a Land Claims Court. A land reform programme, consisting of restitution, redistribution of land, and the reform of the land tenure system, was launched. More than 79,000 land claims were submitted, of which about 75,000, involving more than a million people, had been resolved by the end of 2010. Land reform is a continuing process of which the final outcomes are unpredictable. The final section deals with the prospects of a generally acceptable solution to the land issue. A major challenge is to transform the occupation, ownership and use of land without destroying the environment and agricultural productivity. Land reform today, just like territorial segregation and homeland consolidation in the past, is still driven by an ideology based on race. As long as the race card is deemed necessary to get political support the race factor will impede land reform. Despite all stumbling blocks stakeholders should not lose sight of the ideal of a system of land rights which is equitable, non-racial and productive.

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The so-called "land question" is a well known theme in South African political discourse. Much has been written on the subject in recent times, but also in the historical development of South African politics. This article articulates thoughts concerning the political meaning of land by way of framing the land question as a space of political contestation in South Africa, simultaneously discussing it against a wider international background, acknowledging that the land question is not unique to South Africa and that it also relates to many historical and contemporary political struggles. It is suggested that such an approach possibly may contribute to contextualise the matter and to shed some of the emotional baggage that often pertains to it. The article contextualises land as political contestation while suggesting an interpretation of what politics is. Attention is afforded to the understanding of politics as conflict, but also as reconciliation and compromise against an underlying context of power and its purposes. The latter determining in what kind of country political actors would want to live and relating to interests and values that political actors hold in common. The possibility exists that if reconciliation and compromise are not possible, politics will come to an end, which will not contribute to a sustainable democracy or a solution to the land question. The broader conflicting nature of positions and understandings of the land question in South Africa is further highlighted within the context of political contestation, after which attention is afforded to the positioning of political actors within this contestation.The position of the government and political parties is highlighted within this conflict based framework, noting the different understandings of the land question as well as the commonalities that parties share. Reference is briefly made to non party political actors formal and informal) which represents the same conflictual positions, but which also alludes to other factors relevant to the land question whereafter these factors are highlighted. These include the broader social and economical issues (which are also understood as political), as well as an agricultural and rural bias in the land question, while it is also a matter of political and socio-economic rights within an urban context. The question is also asked whether solutions to the land question should not be found in a forward looking manner, rather than a romanticised understanding of land. The article concludes with a discussion in regard to the land question, when it is viewed from the perspective of political contestation, as defined in this article, as well as considering the possible outcome of the land question. A suggestion is made that consideration could be given to a re-negotiation of this space of political contestation, as land reform will remain unsuccessful if the politics thereof is not addressed; although this would also entail its own dangers for a democratic South Africa where democracy is not yet fully consolidated.
In the history of South Africa, with prospects of a democratic system that would meet all the expectations of the people of the country, the year 1994 also required mind shifts with regard to land reform. As a discipline, History broke its long silence. Past studies on land reform and land claims are visible, but for years, historians have not necessarily contributed to research on the topic. Government, as part of its promise to voters and within the limits of democracy, started investigating the status of land distribution countrywide. Shortly after 1994, processes commenced to provide communities and individuals the opportunity, until the end of 1998, to submit motivations as to why a certain area(s)/region(s) belong to them. This article's open discussion is not intended to cover all the events and processes of the past almost 20years conscientiously. Rather, the intention is to put in writing what the role of History as a discipline can or should be in ultimate decisions on claims in respect of land. However, extensive research on this is still required. In this paper, then, the use of history within the discipline of History in the managing of land claims in South Africa is the core issue. History, as a discipline that can provide multiple sources of a diverse nature, will be discussed briefly with the unsettled land claim on the farm Deelkraal IQ142 as an example. A summary will direct the reader towards the value of History in land claims research, but it should not necessarily be deemed as the final decision about land claims. Therefore, it appears that perceptions of the past (sometimes interwoven with power and conflict), may have a tendency to overshadow any possibility of truth or reality. This in itself creates facets ofpower and politics that simply repeat similar previous cycles.
During the past few years, Archaetnos has been involved in various land claims, with a view to collecting historical, anthropological and archaeological information in order to determine the validity of such claims. This was done by doing deeds searches and studying archival material and anthropological literature, followed by a field survey where claimants indicated sites linked to their history and where they were interviewed. In some cases it was clear from the onset that misperceptions about South African history pertain. Even when information is correct, there is sometimes chronological chaos and in certain instances so-called "facts" are being fabricated. The above-mentioned information is used by the Land Claims Commission (LCC) to determine the merit of a claim. The lack of knowledge at this institution frequently results in cases being approved for the process even when such approval was clearly based on incorrect information. The land claim of the BaPhalane Ba Ramokoka community is one such example. In the article the reasons for land claims in general are listed. The merit of the BaPhalane claim, as well as the information obtained during the research process, is then discussed against this background. This is, however, not done in detail, as the article insteadfocuses on the general problem created by historical misperceptions. The findings of the research were that although the BaPhalane had a valid claim to at least four of the thirty-two farms listed, they had no valid claim to at least eighteen others. This was confirmed by the court judgement. It is concluded that the lack of knowledge at the Land Claims Commission results in many cases being unnecessarily investigated. This results in high costs, a waste of time and an unproductive system. It is therefore clear that information is required at a much earlier stage during the land claims process.
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By using new sources and a complementary historical and geo-analytical approach, this article illustrates that the Natives Land Act (no. 27 of 1913) failed to stop Africans from buying land. New evidence demonstrates that African land ownership outside the reserves in the Transvaal actually increased after 1913. This evidence leads to a deeper questioning of the extent to which the South African government was able to impose rural territorial segregation by 1936 and reveals the limits of white power in the early Union period.
The subject of African land ownership is and will continue to be a highly emotional issue of great importance in the new South Africa. Africans and Afrikaners alike have strong historical ties to the land. Thousands of Africans owned land outside the Reserves before 1948. These landowners included large numbers of Africans who purchased over 3,000 farms and lots between 1913 and 1936 in the Transvaal, Natal, and even the Orange Free State (plus uncounted African buyers in the Cape Province). Individuals, tribal groups, or people organized into partnerships owned land. In the 1990s Africans complain bitterly about land losses, especially after 1948 as a result of the apartheid policy of forced removals which aimed to eliminate the so-called “black spots” from white areas. In addition, some Africans point to the problem of land losses between 1913 and 1948, and others resent the severe restrictions resulting from the Natives Land Act, Act No. 27 of 1913, which prevented Africans from freely buying land in three of the four provinces of South Africa after 1913. On 8 November 1994 the South African Parliament passed the Restitution of Land Rights Act, a law which is intended to allow Africans to reclaim their lost land. Claims by former owners or their descendants will be buttressed by legal documents of one type or another. Some of these legal documents have an interesting and unintended use, however: historians can take advantage of them to build an understanding of African land ownership before and after apartheid began in 1948.
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