In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Land Reform Revisited: democracy, state making and agrarian transformation in post-apartheid South Africa ed. by Femke Brandt and Grasian Mkodzongi
  • Mzingaye Brilliant Xaba (bio)
Femke Brandt and Grasian Mkodzongi (eds) (2018) Land Reform Revisited: democracy, state making and agrarian transformation in post-apartheid South Africa. Leiden: Brill.


The South African land reform programme has long been a sensitive, controversial, politicised and to some extent racially polarising topic. Land Reform Revisited is an excellent edited volume that is divided into five parts, which include an introduction, conclusion and three thematic areas. The three thematic sections are 'Meanings of democracy', 'State-making', and lastly, 'Agency, identity and belonging'. The strength of this precious book is that it is based on empirical evidence and ethnographic data from young scholars and it addresses pertinent questions on land reform. Most importantly, the book sheds light on the multifaceted nature of the land question by showing the diverse meanings to land and the different interpretations of successes on land reform.

The core of the book is that it seeks to emphasise that land debates need to move beyond the commercial agricultural productivity discourse because there are different meanings to land. In addition, the book seeks to emphasise that the land reform narratives have drawn little from the narratives and voices of ordinary people and land beneficiaries. A focus on the multifaceted nature of land reform is important because there is limited attention to such aspects because the narratives on land reform are largely shaped by agricultural productivity discourse to the exclusion of other meanings of land. Essentially, the book challenges the Eurocentric and neoliberal ideas of land and emphasises that a Eurocentric and neoliberal approach to land is unable to articulate and comprehend the [End Page 228] agrarian questions faced by African countries in the post-colonial era (8). The voices and stories of people directly affected by land reform is key, which distinguishes this volume from other analyses. The volume details voices and stories that include lived experiences of land beneficiaries, farm workers, mine workers, the elderly and women, which makes a fascinating and refreshing read.

The main argument in the book is that land reform policy and processes have been captured by the economic (agro-based white experts) and to some extent, political elites, in a top down approach, which in the end has limited the voices of ordinary people, particularly land beneficiaries. There is little space for competing ideas from ordinary people in state making processes. Thus, authors argue that land reform must go beyond the economic agricultural production discourse, and that the narratives on land reform should incorporate democracy, meanings to land, transformation, citizenship, farmworkers, gender, game farming, agency, identity and belonging. This is because the land question is multifaceted and complex.

In the introduction, the editors critique the paternalistic approach to land reform that is based on centralised, technocratic processes, which has thwarted the voices of beneficiaries (4). The main drivers of transformation on land are erroneously assumed to be elites, such as bureaucrats, technicians and planners, rather than ordinary people (4). The African National Congress (ANC) government has favoured agribusiness to the exclusion of other models of land access such as small-scale farming (4). There exists a misleading belief about the big farm commercial agricultural model which is seen to be more effective than the small-scale farming model (which is seen as a threat to food security and productivity) (5). Large-scale commercial farming is seen as convenient, easier to tax, regulate, monitor and register, whereas small-scale farming is viewed by the state officials as chaotic and not clear (279).

This brings the question of what land reform is for, as well as how success is measured or should be measured. In the current land reform narratives, agricultural productivity has superseded any attempt to balance economic productivity and historical redress, and yet land can be used for different purposes beyond farming. In this way, the productivity discourse has been utilised by elites and agribusiness as a scare tactic to dissuade the meaningful transfer of land rights to historically disadvantaged individuals (HDIs). [End Page 229]

In addition, white agro-experts have profited immensely from...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 228-233
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.