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Card image 01 August 2016 Politeia, Volume 35 Number 2, Aug 2016, p. 52 - 70

Human rights, civil society and the contradictions of land reform in South Africa

Land, a central resource for rural development and human survival, has become a recurrent feature of South African politics and a major source of conflict in the country. This prompted the African National Congress-led government to adopt land reform as a key mechanism in its quest to redress racial and class inequalities. However, despite the efforts of government to resolve conflict over land, massive agitation for access to land continues. Government’s failure to deal with this issue has stimulated civil society organisations to become proactive in effecting successful land reform. This paper examines the land reform programme in South Africa, assesses how government policy has affected human rights with respect to access to land, and explores the roles of civil society in the “land battle”. While the country’s Constitution upholds human rights to land use, property rights and human dignity, there is compelling evidence of social injustice, institutional negligence and instances of human rights violations by government, landowners and the landless population. The paper concludes that the land reform has fallen far short of the expectations of the black majority; hence, the need for “bottom-up” land reform driven by the interests of the majority and consideration of minority rights.

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A project of Phuhlisani NPC supported by Absa. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. International License.