1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Project: Racism and Public Policy

Abstract of Paper by Sam Moyo

  • Project from: 2000 to 2001

Land Distribution and the Politics of Race Relations in Southern Africa
This paper examines the politics of land distribution and race relations in Southern Africa, with a particular focus on the experiences of the former settler colonial states of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. The paper develops a conceptual framework, reviews the structure and relationships regarding race and land distribution, and discusses demands. This is followed by an assessment of land policies and detailed case study evidence from the sub-region. Finally, the paper evaluates international aid inputs to land reform and draws conclusions.

The paper uses a historical, political economy framework to examine the evolution of racial inequalities, conflicts and struggles over land and policies to address these. The framework integrates conflict analysis and structuralist, materialist perspectives to trace the evolution of conflictual race relations, in a context where social justice has been subsumed to or traded off against neoliberal political and market-based notions of governance and rule of law, as well as trickle-down and welfarist poverty reduction approaches.

The examination of the structure and patterns of race relations that underlie land inequalities in Southern Africa is based on analysis of the relative distribution of broad demographic features, wealth and income status, economic control and management, formal political party and civil society participation, and social relations in these societies. This section of the paper also provides a framework for analysing the social basis for land demand, struggles and policy making.

The paper next presents a detailed assessment of racially and class- or size-based land holdings, land use and income or welfare benefits from such holdings, and relates these to selected economic indicators. Data and indices of inequality, scarcity and landlessness are presented and discussed.

This section is followed by a review of the various forms, types and sources of demand for land redistribution. These include formal and informal demands, legal and underground/illegal forms of demand, and historical and contemporary demands based on different motives, needs and issues. The paper then elaborates on how civil society organizations, parties (including War Veterans), business representative organizations, community-based organizations and tradition-focused groups organize and demand land redistribution. The racial content of these responses is examined.

The paper also provides an overview of land policies that have been pursued or demanded to address land inequalities. Such policies, of necessity, must cover land ownership issues and land redistribution policies, colonially developed discriminatory land use regulations and land tenure policies, and administration systems, which deepened and institutionalized social and economic inequalities derived from unequal agrarian structures. Different approaches to land redistribution are examined. These include land restitution, direct land redistribution and resettlement, tenure enhancement and reform, as well as ancillary corrective land use measures. The paper surveys the beneficiaries of such public policies, and assesses the impact of the latter. It also examines the politics and policies of land reform, with particular reference to the Zimbabwe experience and its implications for South Africa and Namibia. Details of political process, violence and conflict are explored, as is the manner in which international relations and aid have affected land reform in post-colonial settler Zimbabwe.

The paper concludes with a summary of the foregoing analysis, drawing out the ways in which race relations in Southern Africa can be improved through land reform policies. The section emphasizes policies that ensure that historical social justice and contemporary problems of equity, poverty reduction and broader economic growth are addressed directly, rather than being subsumed under aid preconditions for complex and hurried political and economic reforms that are premised on simplistic market processes and narrow approaches to ‘good governance’ and the ‘rule of law’. The paper argues that social justice—based on more equitable race relations and land distribution—is integral to longer term political reform and economic development.