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The post-colonial reality-land struggles across Southern Africa

Date Released: Thu, 3 November 2011 00:00 +0200

Dr Kirk Helliker & Dr Tendai Murisa

   Prof Hendricks supervised both Helliker and Murisa’s PhD theses and quipped that he “didn’t detect many similarities” between the chapters they wrote for the book and their PhD research. A current PhD student in the Sociology department, Ms Lalita Naido also wrote a chapter in the book.

Prof Hendricks  described the book as “a compelling read” and a comprehensive overview of land struggles in Southern Africa, with a particular focus on case studies. “This book is remarkable in that very few of the authors are university-based – even though it is written in serious academic language and style,” he said.

The first chapter is an introduction to the agrarian question in general, with a criticism of the labour vs capital model, which Prof Hendricks agrees is problematic. “I would have liked to see a countrywide differentiation between the way the agrarian question happens within different countries, especially in how South Africa is different from other colonised African countries.”

With South Africa’s racialised division of labour, “there is a very real rationale for why land reform is so necessary”. He later questioned the lack of a conclusion, which might have in part brought some of the threads together and allowed readers to learn from what has taken place in other southern African countries.

Dr Helliker wrote the second chapter which examines post-apartheid land reform among marginalised communities in the Eastern Cape. Prof Hendricks noted how racial divisions, and most importantly land divisions, remain intact in the province. Despite the demarcated nine provinces, the former ‘homelands’ demarcations still prevail.

In the third chapter, Ms Naidoo investigates the social mobilisation of farm workers and dwellers in the Eastern Cape. With farmers trying to negotiate a complicated system- or what Prof Hendricks more pertinently describes as a paper revolution, with green and white papers stipulating a complex mosaic of laws- people are struggling to carve out a niche for themselves.

Ms Naidoo brings our attention to  the differentiation between farm workers and farm dwellers, as work and accommodation go hand in hand; so when a farm worker loses his/her job, their home is also lost. “This indicates how the agrarian path government has chosen is inappropriate for our situation,” Prof Hendricks emphasised.

In chapter four, Dr Murisa’s overview of fast track land reform in Zimbabwe highlights how these policies irrevocably changed the architecture of the country.

He distinguishes between civil (farmers’ unions etc.) and uncivil organisations, and how small scale farmers are again trying to sustain a living, mobilising themselves on newly resettled land. His main argument is to provide local conceptualisation, with moral agency, amid convoluted government machinations that involve the imposing of traditional structures. Other chapters focus on Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In concluding the seminar, Dr Murisa agreed that a conclusion to the book is needed, echoed by his experience of a lack of knowledge production in the field, especially in rural areas. He noted a dearth of up-to-date data on land struggles in African countries, saying that “we need to produce more thinkers to better understand the post-colonial reality in Africa”.

He thanked Prof Hendriks for contributing to help produce a much-needed “continuous generation of scholars” to contribute to knowledge and information on agrarian issues. He also touched on agrarian reform as an essential form of democratisation.

“Poverty is not being addressed, except through piecemeal measures. Through my contribution, I attempted to bring our attention to the lacuna within post-colonial reform and how land forms such an integral part of the ruling party’s agenda,” said Dr Murisa.

By Anna-Karien Otto

Photo HOD of Sociology Dr Kirk Helliker and programme director of Trust Africa, Dr Tendai Murisa

Photo by Anna-Karien Otto

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