A new approach to land reform as a developmental factor in the South African political landscape
In its 1994 election manifesto (the Reconstruction and Development Programme – RDP) the
African National Congress (ANC), undertook, if elected, to ensure that pro-active land reform
takes place in post-apartheid South Africa. The RDP elaborated on the legacy of apartheid as a
key cause of the current skewed pattern of land ownership in South Africa as well as the importance
of ownership of land for the African people. For this reason the manifesto emphasised that land
reform must be one of the key transformation priorities for the new Government in order to rectify
the wrongs of the past. In terms of post-apartheid land reform arrangements there would be a
specific focus on the following aspects:
Returning land to those that lost their property as a result of apartheid legislation since
• Redistributing land to those that were denied the opportunity to become land owners or
right of residence.
Against the background of these objectives the post-apartheid land reform aim of the RDP was
to ensure the enforcement of justice, poverty relief to the poorest of the poor and the creation of
a situation of sustainable development.
In 2012 the reality is, however, that land reform has only partially been effective. Eighty seven
per cent of all arable land is still owned by white commercial farmers, redistribution is slow and
sustainable development is not taking place. The majority of the South African population, in
specifically the rural areas, are still exposed to extreme poverty and continued underdevelopment.
At the ANC’s June 2012 policy conference this partial effectiveness of land reform since 1994
was recognised. To overcome this situation a so-called new approach to land reform was called
for. There was consensus that the functional processes of land reform must be changed drastically.
This must be done in order to speed up the pace of redistribution, simultaneously ensuring that
sustainable development and poverty reduction continue after land has been transferred to
The urgency of implementing the new approach was expressed as follows in the land reform
policy discussion document of June 2012 (South Africa 2012:2) :
“Land reform must represent a radical and rapid break from the past without significantly
disrupting production and food security.”
At this stage the exact format, content and implications of this “radical and rapid break” is,
however, uncertain. In the advent of the ANC’s December 2012 leadership elections it can be
expected with certainty that many key aspects of the current land reform arrangements will be
reviewed, changed or even scrapped in order to speed up the process. This assumption also serves
as rationale behind this research. It is firstly the purpose of this article to analyse descriptively
the unfolding, scope and progress of land reform in South Africa since 1994. In order to achieve
this objective the article focuses on the following key aspects:
• The rationale behind the current format of land reform;
• The land reform policy and legislative objectives;
• The land reform implementation procedures;
• A holistic perspective on the progress made thus far; and
• The identification of the weaknesses and strong points of land reform since 1994.
Through this analysis the article will secondly identify the shortcomings in the current process.
Against the above-mentioned background an attempt will lastly be made to provide a scenario
perspective with regard to the unfolding of this so-called new approach. An emphasis will be
placed on the identification of possible key functional policy and implementation arrangements
that might change after 2012