Real acts, imagined landscapes: reflections on the discourses of land reform in South Africa after 1994
du Toit, Andries
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This paper discusses the discourses by which land reform policies in South Africa have been justified and criticized. Critical thought is needed about the underlying assumptions and frameworks informing policy and critique. While key aspects of populist, ‘Left’ and liberal ideologies helped mobilize support for land reform after 1994, they framed questions of equitable transformation and justice in ways that obscured the terrain of struggle rather than revealing it. The broad consensus on the legitimacy of land reform in the initial decade after 1994 was underpinned by narratives about redress and reconciliation that privileged reparative justice above distributive equity. It tended to obscure the complex trade-offs and impacts involved in implementation. Coherent policy-making was further undermined by simplistic oppositions between ’market’ and ‘rights-based’ approaches that often led to ill-targeted policies. Land and agrarian reform needs to be liberated from this symbolic burden. It should be informed by an understanding of the nature of inequality in South Africa and the contribution that agrarian change can make to reducing it.