by Rick de Satge, Phuhlisani Solutions
This report sets out to try and capture key elements from this interchange of comparative perspectives and identify issues for policy and practice which emerged from the four thematic areas shaping the conference deliberations. The conference was broad and interdisciplinary in scope. It combined five plenary sessions and 43 panels organised into thematic clusters which also included a focus on the experiences of other countries in Southern Africa including Zimbabwe, Namibia and Malawi. These sessions provided multiple and frequently divergent perspectives which illuminated the conference focal areas – the legacy of the 1913 Natives Land Act, land and agrarian reform policy in southern Africa, the multiple meanings of land and ecological challenges - in strikingly different ways.
The conference illuminated the many ways in which South Africa remains a land divided. It highlighted the profound changes in the structuring of the agrarian economy. It charted the rise of global food and commodity chains and the intense concentration in the control over land and productive resources associated with global industrial agriculture production. The rise of agribusiness was accompanied by mounting ecological and human costs which remain poorly understood.
The conference deliberations reveal the complex interplay of historical and contemporary factors which shape the social, political, economic and ecological context in the centenary of the 1913 Native Land Act. It is clear that undoing the legacy of the Land Act extends far beyond attempts to correct the skewed nature of the ownership and control over land. Attempts to confront the consequences of the Land Act have to proceed on many fronts. Researchers, civil society activists and practitioners must find ways to address the immense concentration of wealth, assets and power that characterise the global economic system. Research must expose the toxic ecological impacts of this system that drive climate change and the broader, concealed but mounting crisis in nature. We must reverse the distortions of tenure and governance systems which impact on the lives and undermine the rights of millions of South Africans. This also requires a careful examination of the trajectories shaping agriculture, natural resource use and land based livelihoods.