The following topics have already been identified for panels for which abstracts are specifically invited:

  1. The origins and impact of the Natives Land Act: Continuities, contestations, conceptualisations
  2. The ‘homelands’ and customary law
  3. The property clause and land reform
  4. The interface between research and policy in the land sector

A list of other suggested topics is at the bottom of this page.

i.   The origins and impact of the Natives Land Act: Continuities, contestations, conceptualisations

The 1913 Natives Land Act was one of the first acts of the all-white parliament that was established through the Act of Union in 1910. It is routinely referred to as a foundational Act. Yet what new light is current historical research throwing on this subject and how might this affect contemporary understandings of the significance of this Act?

The following are examples of issues that could be pursued in one or more panels. What was the relationship between this Act and segregationist laws and policies in the pre-union dispensation? What were the political and economic forces that gave rise to the Act as well as shaped opposition to it, at the time of its adoption and in subsequent years? How significant was the Act for the formation of the ANC and what vision for citizenship and property relationships did the founders of the ANC and other political formations hold at the time?  What were the consequences of the Act for black land rights and access to land after 1913? How did this vary regionally? What were its gender dimensions? What were its consequences for black rural livelihoods and class differentiation at the time and over the longer term? How significant was this piece of legislation for the subsequent development of commercial agriculture and what were its social and economic consequences for those areas of the country henceforth classified as the ‘white’ countryside? 

How have ways of analysing the Act changed over the years – have they? Is it possible to think about this Act without reproducing the very dualisms that it set out to impose? How does the Act feature in contemporary academic, political and artistic discourse and what, if any, shifts in its representation have occurred over time?


ii.  The ‘homelands’ and customary law

A stark legacy of the 1913 Land Act is continuing divisions between the former homelands and the rest of South Africa. These have been brought into focus by recent laws pertaining to the powers of traditional leaders, in particular the Traditional Courts Bill that effectively establishes a separate ‘customary law’ legal regime for people living in the former homelands. The new laws conceive of customary law as a vehicle of chiefly authority and restricted to the territorial boundaries of the former homelands.  Tensions also exist between them and the restitution process that seeks to undo the legacy of forced removals and ‘bantustan’ consolidation. 

Papers and panels are invited concerning the persistence of apartheid boundaries in ‘setting apart’ the former homelands, as well as the place and use of ‘customary law’ in that process. Possible focus areas include: contested interpretations of customary law; exploring the persistence and permutations of apartheid geography; the relationship between law and violence; the tension between restitution and ‘tradition’; disputed constructs of land rights and customary law; the citizen and subject divide between town and country; the implications for women; and the interface between national law and local power relations.


iii. The property clause and land reform

The ‘property clause’ in the South African Constitution of 1996 is often blamed for the failure of land reform. This panel, or set of panels, will examine the implications of the choices made by key political actors during the negotiation of the Constitution. One account is that senior ANC leaders ‘threw away’ the outcome of a hard-fought battle over property rights during the Constitutional negotiations, which had provided specific exclusions for land and other natural resources. According to this account the property clause was not required by the outgoing apartheid government, but unnecessarily conceded by the incoming ANC government. Another implication is that the outgoing government conceded the discriminatory, indeed violent, origins of the current distribution of land and that specific government interventions were necessary to address the past.  Even in its watered-down ultimate wording the clause provides the leeway to deviate from the ‘willing buyer, willing selling’ formula and expropriate land for less than market-value. However current ANC politicians repeatedly attribute the failure of land reform to the property clause, and lobby groups representing white landowners staunchly oppose legislation that would enable expropriation at less than ‘market value’.  They appear unconcerned by the issues of precarious legitimacy conceded in 1996.

It is envisaged that experts on property law will debate the implications of the wording of s25 of the Constitution, along with those engaged in the negotiation of the property clause or in more recent attempts to draft a new Expropriation Act.  The intention is to clarify and separate out the legal implications of the property clause from the wider and encompassing issue of political will, and the interests of different sectors of South African society with regard to property rights and land reform. Other issues to be addressed concern the interplay between land reform and property rights, including for example the relationship between political and legal processes.


The following is an example of a proposed roundtable debate:

iv. The interface between research and policy in the land sector

This panel will interrogate research methods as well as explore action-research partnerships and trans-disciplinary approaches. It will revisit some of the perennial debates triggered by academic conferences in which rural poverty is a major focus. These concern the ethics of predominantly urban researchers building their careers through research conducted on 'rural others', and alternative perspectives concerning the intrinsic value of research.  It will hone in on the interface between research and policy formulation, interrogating the claims of 'policy orientated' research against how, and by whom the research agenda is set, and how and by whom its impact is measured.  This roundtable debate will include people who are differently situated, including academics, lawyers, NGO workers and representatives of rural groupings. They will share what they hope to gain from participating in joint research activities and reflect on the lessons learned along the way.  The challenges and benefits of attempting to build mutually respectful partnerships across a variety of life experiences, skill sets, disciplines, and unequal resources will be discussed. 


Other suggested topics

The above is clearly not definitive of the scope of the conference. The following list of topics is intended to stimulate further ideas either for possible panels or for specific research papers and posters:

  • International perspectives on land reform
  • Comparative perspectives on transitional justice and  land restitution
  • Nationalisation, the property clause and the willing buyer-willing seller policy
  • Case studies of successes and/or failures of South African land reform
  • Historical perspectives on South and Southern African land policy
  • South Africa / Zimbabwe land policy and land politics: comparisons, contrasts, contexts
  • Tenure reform
  • Bantustans and their futures after 1994
  • Gender and generational dynamics within land reform
  • Bio-fuels, ‘land grabs’, and the energy crisis
  • Mining and land rights
  • Urbanisation, rural-urban linkages and their implications for land policy
  • De-agrarianisation debates
  • Commercial farming, its past, present and futures;
  • The debate on large or small-scale agriculture
  • Farm workers: their past, present and futures
  • Food security; value chains
  • Spatial planning and land policy
  • Urban land reform
  • Urban agriculture
  • Legal dimensions of land reform and land policy
  • Climate change & its implications for land/agrarian/environmental policy & research agendas
  • Land policy and sustainable development: critical perspectives
  • Land restitution and protected areas: case studies and controversies
  • Community-based natural resource management
  • Environmental histories of South and southern Africa
  • Eco-criticism
  • Land, the environment and literature
  • Land, landscape and the visual/performing arts
  • Land and identity, home, belonging, citizenship
  • Land restitution, memory and redress
  • Social movements and the politics of land.
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