Listening for a Change: A Case Study of Non-violent Land Reform and Black Farmer Empowerment in South Africa


This case study explores one of the most important instances to date of organized, non-violent land invasion in South Africa as undertaken by a group of emerging black farmers. Using the qualitative techniques of oral history, participant-observation and group interviews, research was conducted with a group of emerging farmers involved in invasion, as well as essential stakeholders. Key questions posed in the study are: what was the grassroots experience of South Africa's land reform program, how and why did the farmers in question engage in land invasion and what lessons can be learned from this event so as to better inform and guide South Africa's land policy development. The main findings of the paper are broken into a micro and macro analysis covering the impact of invasion on one farm community and highlighting its role of within the general framework of global land reform. This case found the act of invasion to be an effective and empowering strategy for accessing land and developing farm skills & capacities. It also revealed some of the greatest inadequacies and challenges of South African’s land reform efforts. In the macro analysis, land invasion, or the unsanctioned act of seizing land, poses a particular challenge to land reform. Popularly portrayed as violent, ineffective and inappropriate, invasion has actually been demonstrated to be one of the most effective processes of land reform. Non-violent land reform efforts are negotiated, interactive and ongoing processes that involve both State and populace. Land reform itself has been noted to be a socially constructed and negotiated process. Framed in this manner reform then becomes not a matter of State and policy development, but an ongoing dialogue between the State and its people. Accordingly, individual events, like 'invasion' play a critical role in re-framing the process and ultimately enabling a peaceful land reform to take place. Such acts enable disenfranchised groups to enter the game or into dialogue with political elites. Rather than dismissing or disavowing such occurrences, governments should use them to inform and guide continued policy development through what is essentially a democratization of the process itself.


Agricultural and Resource Economics | Rural Sociology

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