This introduction sketches the context and dynamics of agrarian change, rural poverty and
land reform since the end of apartheid in 1994, drawing attention to structural continuities
and new elements in the countrysides of South Africa, and of the Southern African region
in which South Africa must be located. Two key historical and theoretical reference points
help focus attention on some central issues: the ‘classic’ model of dispossession/accumulation
in South(ern) Africa, and ‘decentralized despotism’ as the distinctive mode and legacy of
colonial governance. In conclusion, we introduce the papers as contributions to answering
some central questions which require further research and debate.