Historical Context To Land Reform

The target communities LAMOSA works with:

  • Vulnerable groups leaving in extreme poverty e.g. Farm dwellers and farm workers (special emphasis on women),
  • Residents of former homelands who reside under the jurisdiction of traditional authorities
  • Landless communities and individuals in targeted provinces (Limpopo, Mpumalanga, NorthWest and Gauteng)
  • Resettled claimant communities (restitution) in the selected province (Limpopo, Mpumalanga, NorthWest and Gauteng)


Historical Context that Underpins LAMOSA’s WORK

The central process of modern South African history has been how unequal access to land, ratified by statute, has underpinned settler colonial domination of the majority of South Africans[i]. However, there is also a recognition that the effects of apartheid have been structured by skewed gender relations, which have led to higher levels of impoverishment amongst black women in South Africa[ii]. This denial of land rights for black women was only a part of a broad legacy of centuries of land dispossession through racially discriminatory laws. The Native Land Act (No 27 of 1913) forced black women to work as labourers on white farms under labour tenancies that were easily subject to terminations. This made them more vulnerable to evictions than their male colleagues[iii]. Historically, land dispossession began in South Africa more than 300 hundred years due to both colonial and tribal wars but reached its peak during apartheid, with the promulgation of the Land Native Act of 1913.

The Land Acts of 1913, 1936 and the associated Group Area Acts of the 1950s formed the foundation of racial land dispossession to ensure that the bulk of the land was inaccessible to the black population. Consequently, 13% of the area in South Africa was set aside as so-called ‘homelands’, ‘bantustans’ or ‘reserves’ for the black African majority.[iv] Apartheid clearly left a legacy characterised by severe inequalities and injustices which are clearly evident in the distribution of land as well as in the dualistic nature of the agriculture sector.[v] The established white commercial agricultural sector was an important political constituent of the apartheid state. In the past, government departments, and associated institutional structures protected and subsidised production and made available large tracts of land, ample water supply and cheap labour[vi] whilst denying small-scale subsistence agriculture the required support regimes within the former homelands. It is estimated that more than 3.5 million people were forcibly removed in the period 1960 to 1983 alone, through homeland consolidation, removals from “black spots” and the Group Areas Act.[vii]

Dispossession of communal/tribal land represented the loss of one of the most significant freedoms and for this reason, for many South Africans, ‘land’ signifies much more than the physical production of crops. The struggle over ‘land’ is a potent symbol of oppression experienced by disenfranchised black communities in SA. Land policies were therefore inextricably intertwined with policies concerned with the supply and regulation of labour as well as those focused on political control[viii]. As a result of land dispossession processes, it was estimated that in 1996, less than 1% of the population owned and controlled over 80% of farmland. This 1% constituted 10.9% of the population classified as ‘white’[ix] whilst 76.7% of the population that is classified as African had restricted access to less than 15% of agricultural land with less secure tenure rights to land. Added to this, an estimated 5.3 million black South Africans lived with almost no security (of ownership/equity) on commercial farms owned by white farmers[x]. One of the other results of this massive dispossession of land is the concentration of poverty in South Africa’s agriculturally unproductive rural areas, where about 70% of the population lives below the poverty line.[xi]

In South Africa’s rural areas, women’s access to land was limited by their gender and social position in the community. Although women make up the majority of the population in these areas, their rights to land are to only a small proportion of the land.[xii] This is despite the fact that most rural women in rural South Africa are agricultural producers, who are skilful at cultivating subsistence crops for their family. The Apartheid policies forced many women to take over the running of rural property while their husbands and sons were forced into wage labour on the mines and in the cities. Women worked on agricultural production in addition to being heads of households, caring for children and maintaining the household. Customary laws also prevented women from owning land. For many years, a woman was not able to get effective land rights without the permission of her husband or guardian.[xiii]

The predominantly male right to direct land allocation also coincides with and defines a wider set of primary rights within the community. Only male heads of household who have been formally allocated land rights hold full citizenship rights within their communities, including the right to build a house, plant a crop, control their productive earnings from the land, access public resources and participate in public debates. Women held secondary rights to land that similarly correspond to their secondary rights in respect of other community activities, rendering them as subjects, or minors, rather than as full citizens, both within their households and within the wider community, as dependents of the formal rights holder. A similar dichotomy exists within other rural settlements, including missions, informal settlements and the former ‘black spots’, where land tenure and other rights are mediated through the landowner.[xiv] This observation is corroborated by the General household Survey of 2003 undertaken by Statistics SA indicated that 41% of rural women over 18 years old were neither the household head, nor married to the household head. In other words, 41% of rural women had no rights to own land.[xv]

Despite the vulnerabilities experienced by women with regard to tenure insecurity, poverty bears a disproportionately female face. The proportion of women-headed households has increased, with female-headed households accounting for a larger share of poverty than their share in the population.  In 2005, more than half of the individuals considered ‘poor’ in terms of both the R322 and the R174 line, lived in female-headed households. In contrast, only about 43% of the population lived in female-headed households.[xvi] Data from the 1996 census reveal that 46% of South Africa’s population of 40.6 million people lived in rural areas in 1996 – the areas where 70 % of the country’s poor live. Despite the dramatic, political, and social reforms that have taken place in SA, rural areas seem to have benefited less than urban areas from the policy changes introduced after 1994.[xvii] A recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report (2010)[xviii] using the poverty line of R515 per capita per month noted that the decline in poverty incidence is made up mostly of the decline in poverty incidence among the African population, particularly males. The results show a meagre 1% change in poverty share, which moved 1% upwards for African women, and moved 1% downwards for African men. In contrast, poverty incidence of coloured people, both male and female actually increases over the period, although this does not have a large effect on overall poverty due to their combined shares of the population being only about 9%.

Hence, the effects of apartheid-era policies impacted significantly on the South African agrarian landscape. Debates in support of a wide ranging programme of social and economic support in rural areas has increasingly centred on the need to institute significant land and agrarian reforms in these areas. This was also manifested in the post-1994 policy on land reform which largely acknowledges land reform as a “liberationist programme” aimed at restoring historic injustice and inequities of the past[xix] that would accord secure land rights to victims of dispossession largely clustered in particular, the previously landless, labour tenants, marginalised, farm labourers, youth, disabled and women. This principle of equality/equity in relation to land rights is broadly acknowledged in the White Paper on Land Reform (1997)[xx]. However it is our contention as LAMOSA that in the last 16 years, the gap between policy and outcome has been increasing due to a variety of factors ranging from fiscal, institutional and capacity constraints that the government has faced in implementing the programme of land reform. The poverty levels experienced in rural South Africa, evident 16 years into South Africa’s democracy are a stark reminder of the fact that the imprints of Apartheid spatial geography are still much evident in South Africa as manifested in the levels of socio-economic disparities between rural and urban South Africa. As a land rights organisation, we are wholly driven by our own historical conviction that under development in rural areas is an outcome of dispossession, forced removals and immiseration.

The gap between rich and poor in South Africa, particularly the rural poor, has widened since 1994.[xxi] After the transition to democracy in 1994, the main challenge for rural development was to end the marginalisation of the rural poor, both the impoverished in the former Bantustans and farm workers.[xxii]  High levels of poverty in the rural areas were associated with significant food insecurity, despite major improvements in the 2000s. Estimates suggest that more than 50% of South Africa’s population live below the poverty line with many of these residing in the rural areas of the former homelands. In addition, it estimated that 66% of the rural population live below the poverty line. Over two-thirds of the rural black population, variously estimated at 16 to 18 million, are living in the former bantustans, reflecting high density levels, and it is there that poverty is concentrated, reflecting a high rate as well as deep poverty (the amount required to bring households up to the poverty line) and chronic poverty. Adult unemployment is said to reach over 70% in those areas, compared to 46% nationwide; per capita income is low and households depend heavily on pensions, some social grants,6 and remittances. Rural health services are less available and more rudimentary than in urban areas, HIV Aids rates have risen over 20% and infant mortality is high. Although access to clean water sources has improved since 1994, long distances to fetch water place an extra burden on women. Most of those people facing food insecurity nationally are in these communal areas. Extreme poverty is exacerbated by limited access to arable and grazing land, one reason that land reform has ostensibly targeted the people living in these areas. In 2005, 75% of the one million African households with land, had access to less than one hectare. Arable land is limited to 12 percent and most of the rest lends itself only to raising livestock; despite dwindling commonage, owning and raising cattle remains an important feature of rural society. The soil is depleted from heavy use in those mostly overcrowded communal areas that have cultivable land while nationally white farmers and agribusiness control 70 % of irrigated land.[xxiii] Following from these estimates it is clear that any rural development strategy must have a poverty agenda.


Statistical Overview of Rural Population, Agricultural Employment and Output by Province[xxviii]

 Province  Population (1000)  Employment
 Rural  Urban  % Rural  Total  Agriculture  %Agriculture
 Western Cape  312  4433  6.6  1524000  223175  14.7
 Eastern Cape  3995  2990  57.2  1235000  64654  5.3
 Northern Cape  334  804  29.4  248000  99251  40.1
 Free State  581  2378  19.7  793000  115478  14.6
 KwaZulu-Natal  5224  4706  52.7  2091000  113401  5.5
 North West  1826  1470  55.5  802000  85992  10.8
 Gauteng  348  9234  3.7  2777000  29537  1.1
 Mpumalanga  2085  1428  59.4  712000  108083  15.2
 Limpopo  4734  638  88.2  847000  101249  12



Statistical sources:  IES 2005, Agricultural Census 2002, Stats Bulletin 2007

As noted in Table 1, at the provincial level, the percentage of the rural population is quite varied. In 5 out of the 9 provinces, the share of the rural population is more than 50% of the total population in the province, exceeding 80% in Limpopo. The other provinces falling in the 50-60% range are: Kwazulu-Natal, North West, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. What these provinces share in common is that they were formerly the homelands in pre 1994[xxix]. Within the provinces where LAMOSA works in, it estimated that 15.2% of the rural population in Mpumalanga is engaged in formal employment within the agricultural sector, followed by Limpopo province at 12% and the North West province at 10.8%. The three most predominantly rural provinces are Limpopo (88.2%), Mpumalanga (59.4%), North West (55.5%) and Gauteng (3.7%).

The selection of the target group communities is historical in that when LAMOSA was established it was in the former Transvaal areas where TRAC operated. It was therefore logical for LAMOSA to continue to operate in those areas because of other sister organisations working in other provinces, but also include other communities that are historically outside of the area of operation and not covered by services provided by land service organisations. Secondly the dispossessed and landless people had no advocacy organisations to plead their case in the various locations. LAMOSA became a vehicle for this since its inception. LAMOSA also operates in the areas that are recognised by government as the poorest of the poor and have been identified by the presidency as nodal points for development. These include, Sekhukhune district, which is a cross border municipality between Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces and Bojanala district in the NorthWest province. Fourthly there are other organisations that work in other communities in the various provinces, even though this does not cover all communities that need assistance. LAMOSA can only operate in the communities identified due to limited capacity.



[i] Budlender, G. and J. Latsky. 1991. “Unravelling Rights to Land in Rural Race Zones.” in A Harvest of Discontent: The Land Question in South Africa, edited by M. de Klerk. Cape Town: Institute for Democratic Alternatives for South Africa.

[ii]Hargreaves, S and Shamim, M. 2000.“Out of the Margins and into the Centre: gendered and institutional Change” in Cousins B. 2000. At the Crossroads. Land and Agrarian Reform in South Africa into the 21st Century. Cape Town: Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape.

[iii] Yanon, M. 2006. Access to Land in Post-apartheid South Africa: Implications for the South African Black Woman. Codesria Bulletin, Nos. 1 & 2.

[iv] Walker, C. 1998 Land Reform and Gender in Post-Apartheid South Africa, Discussion Paper No. 98, UNRISD, Geneva.

[v] Hall, R., (2004). “A Political Economy of Land Reform in South Africa”, Review of African Political Economy, Volume 31, Number 100, p. 213-227.

[vi]Levin, R. 1997. “LAPC Land Reform Research: Mpumalanga District Study, Interim Report.”  Unpublished Paper, Johannesburg.

[vii] Murray-Prior and L, Ncukana. 2000. Agricultural Development in South Africa: Some Preliminary Thoughts. A Paper Presented to the Africa 2000: Links, Land and Identities Conference, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, July 2000.

[viii] Cousins, B. 2008. “Contextualising the controversies: dilemmas of communal tenure reform in post-apartheid South Africa”, in Claassens, A. and Cousins, B. 2008. Land, Power & Custom. Controversies generated by South Africa’s Communal Land Rights Act. CapeTown: UCT Press.

[ix] Wegerif, M. 2004. A Critical Appraisal of South Africa’s Market-based Land Reform Policy: The Case of the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) Programme in Limpopo. Research Report  Cape Town: Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape. Pp. 1

[x] Wildschut, A. and Hulbert, S. 1998. “A Seed Not Sown: Prospects for Agrarian Reform in South Africa”. Report prepared by the International Fundraising Consortium (Interfund). Unpublished report, Johannesburg.

[xi] Levin, R. and D. Weiner. 1997. “No More Tears …”: Struggles for Land in Mpumalanga, South Africa. Trenton: Africa World Press. Pp. 4 – 5.

[xii] Small, J. 1997. “Women’s land rights: a case study from the Northern Transvaal” in Meer, S. 1997. Women, Land and Authority. Perspectives from South Africa. David Philip Publishers.

[xiii] http://www.communitylawcentre.org.za/clc-projects/socio-economic-rights/2nd-ed-of-resource-book/chapter%206.pdf/

[xiv] Cross, C and Hornby, D. 2002. Opportunities and Obstacles to Women’s land Access in South Africa. A Research Report for the Promoting Women’s Access to Land program.

[xv] Claasens, A and Ngubane, S. 2008. “Women, land and power: the impact of the Communal Land rights Act” in Cousins, B. 2008. “Contextualising the controversies: dilemmas of communal tenure reform in post-apartheid South Africa”, in Claassens, A. and Cousins, B. 2008. Land, Power & Custom. Controversies generated by South Africa’s Communal Land Rights Act. CapeTown: UCT Press. Pp 164

[xvi] South Africa, The Presidency, 2003. Towards a Fifteen Year Review. At:http://education.ukzn.ac.za/Uploads/0ed26f10-9182-4a8f-b181-e30dfe16c032/Review%2015%20year%20Gov.pdf  pp.7

[xvii] Van den Brink, R, Sonwabo, G, and Binswanger, H. 2007. “Agricultural land redistribution in South Africa: towards accelerated implementation” in Ntsebeza, L. and Hall. R. 2007. The Land Question in South Africa. Human Sciences Research Council. Pretoria. Pp. 165.

[xviii] Leibbrandt, Woolard, I, Finn, A and Argent J. 2010. Trends in South African Income Distribution and Poverty Since the Fall of Apartheid. OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers No. 101. pp 37.

[xix] For instance, see Walker, C. 2005a. The Limits of Land Reform: Rethinking ‘the Land Question” Journal of Southern African Studies. Vol 31, No 4, pp 805 – 824.

[xx] South Africa, Department of Land Affairs. 1997. White Paper on South African Land Reform Policy. Pretoria: Government Printer

[xxi]“ Andrew, N and Jacobs, P (2009). Nourishing rural poverty – South Africa’s unchanging land relations” at: http://www.hsrc.ac.za/Document-3217.phtml

[xxii] Neva, M. 2010. South Africa: Synthesis Paper. Paper Presentated at the, International Conference on the Dynamics of Rural Transformation in Emerging Economies New Delhi, India, April 16, 2010 www.ruraltransformation.in

[xxiii] Andrew, N and Jacobs, P (2009). Nourishing rural poverty – South Africa’s unchanging land relations” at: http://www.hsrc.ac.za/Document-3217.phtml

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Aliber, M. (2009) ‘Exploring statistics South Africa’s National Household Surveys as sources of information about household-level food security,’ Agrekon, 48(4).

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Neva, M. 2010. South Africa: Synthesis Paper. Paper Presentated at the, International Conference on the Dynamics of Rural Transformation in Emerging Economies New Delhi, India, April 16, 2010 www.ruraltransformation.in

[xxviii] Adopted from: Jacobs, P, Aliber, M, Hart, T and O’Donovan, M. 2008. Review of Rural Development: 15 year Review of Economic and Social Sector Programmes. Statistical sources: Sources: IES 2005, Agricultural Census 2002, Stats Bulletin 2007

[xxix] Jacobs, P, Aliber, M, Hart, T and O’Donovan, M. 2008. Review of Rural Development: 15 year Review of Economic and Social Sector Programmes. Statistical sources: Sources: IES 2005, Agricultural Census 2002, Stats Bulletin 2007. pp. 7

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