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Robert Leslie Social Sciences Building
University of Cape Town
South Africa
24–27 March 2013




2013 is the centenary of South Africa’s notorious Natives Land Act, a foundational piece of legislation in the edifice of twentieth-century segregation and apartheid. Its devastating legacy is still evident in the country’s divided countryside and deeply racialised inequalities. It is also a year before the 2014 deadline that the ANC government set for itself in the mid-1990s, of redistributing 30% of commercial agricultural land into black ownership – a target that most analysts agree cannot be met. Land reform continues to figure in national economic policy (such as the New Growth Path) and in political rhetoric across the ideological spectrum. What does all of this mean for the present and the future?

The answers do not lie in easy slogans and opportunistic politics. The centenary of the Land Act presents a major opportunity for researchers in academia, civil society and the state to reflect on the significance of ‘the land question’ in South African society and what can be learned from other contexts and different ways of thinking about land as a social, economic and natural resource.  Land reform cannot be reduced to agricultural policy, nor can the social meaning of land be understood in narrowly economic terms. The complex intersection of issues shaping relationships to land at the start of the twenty-first century demand fresh analyses and new ways of thinking. Much can be learned from addressing the issues in comparative perspective and drawing on theories and insights from other parts of the region and globe.


The programme

With the above as a starting point, this inter-disciplinary conference aimed to provide a platform for current scholarship across the social, human and environmental sciences on land issues in South Africa, within a regional and comparative frame. Given the significance of the centenary of the 1913 Land Act, reflections on the legacy and meaning of this legislation — one hundred years on — will be an important focus. But the conferences addresses the history of dispossession pre-dating the act; explores land reform and agrarian policy in southern Africa; papers on identity, rights and belonging; and analysis of the ecological challenges around South African land.

These themes were explored in plenary sessions (that were open to the public), where leading figures in the field from South Africa and abroad identified key issues and opened up the debates, which were then be further examined in parallel sessions.

More information on the conference can be found below, or will be added onto the conference website in due time:

Photographic exhibitions

A highlight of the conference was the launch of Umhlaba 100 years: commemorating the 1913 Land Act a photographic exhibition on the multiple meanings of land in South Africa, past and present. The Iziko National Gallery is hosting the exhibition, co-curated by Paul Weinberg of UCT Library and David Goldblatt, the pre-eminent documentary photographer. Both have spent much of their careers exploring the contested nature of land and landscape in South African society. The public exhibition addresses all four conference themes visually. Archbishop Ndungane will give the key note address at the exhibition opening.
A second photographic exhibition - Extraordinary Lives: Portraits from a Divided Land - was hosted at the District Six Homecoming Centre, opening on Saturday 23 March 2013. The photographs are the work of Sophia Klaase, a young photographer from Paulshoek in Namaqualand. The exhibition revealed the vision of a young ‘coloured’ South African woman, dislocated from formal sources of the visual literacy that frequently drives photographic experimentation. She responds astutely to trajectories in the photographic representation of South African bodies. Klaaste has had neither formal training nor exposure to legacies and knowledge about photography. 

Host institutions

The conference was hosted by three major centres of research on land and the environment in South Africa and the region:

The steering committee comprises: Aninka Claassens (UCT), Ben Cousins (UWC), Obiozo Ukpabi (UWC), and Cherryl Walker (Stellenbosch University).

Contact details

For more information on the conference contact:

PLAAS, University of Western Cape

Tel: +27 (0)21 959 3733     Fax:  + 27 (0)21 959 3732




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