Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Research Student: Dr Giuliano Martiniello

The Agrarian Question in South Africa: an historical and contemporary (policy) perspective from Kwazulu-Natal

Photo of Dr Giuliano Martiniello

In 2004, the ten year anniversary of the end of apartheid was commemorated. This event represented in the collective imagery of people all over the world the end of colonialism and with it the end of domination by white man in the African continent.
However, since then people in the Republic of South Africa have been more polarised than ever before: the ratio between the total income of white and black households has increased from 4 to 6.

South Africa's wealth gap is widening and the average black citizen still only earns an eighth of what his white counterpart does nearly 14 years on from the end of apartheid. Inequality and poverty proceed together and there is no sign of a real change of direction. Against this background of increasing inequalities and poverty, South Africa still maintains a very spatially uneven landscape within towns and between urban and rural domains. After 14 years, the land reform, posed at the core of the political agenda in the early years of the post-independence era, has not been able to redistribute land to black people and redress the history of land dispossession and uneven land ownership peculiar to the South African past.

In 1994 the Reconstruction and Development Program set up as a target the redistribution of 30% of land to black people. However, since then only 4% of land has been transferred to black people. The market-based approach, which has driven the reform process, is putting in evidence the limits of the willing buyer/ willing seller principle considered by the mainstream as optimal in the redistributive process. Created and elaborated within the neo-liberal ideological assault to the role of the state globally, the reform process is helping to create a tiny layer of black commercial farmers, which success, in economic terms, is however still to be proved.

The thesis analyzes the Agrarian Question in South Africa from an historical perspective. It does so understanding the long dureé of historical transformation of rural social relations that affected the development of capitalism in the South African countryside and the resistance it encountered. The aim is to intermesh different levels of analysis starting from the international uneven incorporation of South Africa in the world economy, the national and completing it with a view of the consequences of processes of semi-proletarianization on the local scale. Synergizing the local and the global, macro and micro, represents a constant effort to better uncover the complexities of the ongoing transition. The thesis will focus on Inanda, the rural-urban region in the inner part of the newly erected Ethekewini Municipality (the greater Durban).

This case study helps explain contemporary processes of urban/rural articulations, rural marginalization, circular migration and development/underdevelopment. The analysis will explores the contested terrain of the consequences and outcomes of politics of land set up in South Africa on the base of the willing buyer-willing seller principle which is increasing uneven processes of commoditization. The three pillars of the land reform: land restitution, redistribution and tenure security will be the object of the final scrutiny of the work with the annexed proposal of different policy measures aimed at overcoming the limits of the present Government of South Africa approach. 

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