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Social Policy and Development Programme Paper 10: Agrarian Change, Gender and Land Reform: A South African Case Study

27 Aug 2002

  • Author(s): Cherryl Walker


This new UNRISD paper examines land reform policies in South Africa from the democratic transition in that country in 1993/1994 until November 2000, and the extent to which women’s rights and interests in land were addressed during that time.

The first section of the paper discusses the context for land reform, including the historical, political and economic background, the strength of the women’s movement before and after 1994, and conditions in rural South Africa.

The second section looks at the land reform programme after 1994. It analyses developments in what is identified as the first phase of the land reform programme, between 1994 and 1999, and then discusses the policy shifts that have taken place during the national elections of mid-1999. The paper shows that by 1999, the achievements of the land reform programme had been very modest and that implementation had proved far more complex and resource-demanding than anticipated.

The author argues that while poor people were targeted, very little land had been redistributed and where land had been transferred, evidence of economic develop-ment was minimal. It also appeared that imple-menters had struggled to include gender equity into workable project interventions.

The paper concludes that while a small number of women effectively gained access to land, land reform did not take place on a sufficiently large scale to benefit the great majority of poor, rural women. Furthermore, it finds that poor women were unlikely to benefit from the new direction of land reform policy since 1999, which prioritizes the promotion of a black commercial farming class above other commitments.

Hence, the paper raises serious questions about the implications of new policy direction in South Africa. It finds that repercussions for poor rural women are potentially negative, given the general weakness of their position socially and economically, and the lack of official capacity to implement confirmed gender policy.

Cherryl Walker was Regional Land Claims Commissioner for the province of KwaZulu Natal from March 1995 until April 2000. She is currently working as an independent researcher and consultant on land issues.

Order PPSPD 10 from UNRISD (US$ 8 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 4 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).