The Politics of Land Reform in Southern Africa


This paper examines the politics of land in Southern Africa and, in particular, current process of land reform in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. It argues that despite the considerable attention given to land issues in the region over the past twenty years, fundamental reform that shifts assets and opportunities in favour of the rural poor have yet to be brought about. Across the region, the legacy of settler colonialism lives on in a dualistic agricultural system that has been perpetuated first by deliberate state policies and, more recently, by the forces of deregulated capitalism. Small-scale agriculture, which provides a precarious living to millions of poor rural households, remains severely neglected by policy makers in all three countries. Only in Zimbabwe has substantial redistribution of land taken place since independence, but here, as elsewhere in the region, the rights of small-scale landholders remain vulnerable and the conditions for agricultural livelihoods highly unfavourable. Recent seizures of commercial farms and other land in Zimbabwe, and rising militancy among land activists in South Africa, suggest that demand for radical land remains strong among much of the rural population and show how the land question has the potential to become critical in times of political or economic crisis.


Lahiff, E. The Politics of Land Reform in Southern Africa. Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK (2003) 61 pp. ISBN 1 85864 453 4 [Sustainable Livelihoods in Southern Africa Research Paper 19]

The Politics of Land Reform in Southern Africa

Published 1 January 2003