Land News

How farm dwellers in South Africa think about home, land and belonging

By Dr Donna Hornby, as published in The Conversation, November 16, 2017

South Africa’s unemployment rate puts it in the bottom ten countries in the world. Hunger levels are growing. It has what Berkeley geography professor Gillian Hart calls a “population surplus to the needs of capital” that must find ways to survive despite living a “wageless existence.”

This is happening against the backdrop of three unfolding social processes.

The first involves deteriorating conditions for survival. A new social category is emerging called the “precariat”: growing numbers of people who struggle to secure the conditions for their survival through traditional means like permanent work. Instead, more and more people survive through multiple jobs that are part-time, insecure and precarious. Guy Standing, who is a professor of economy security at Bath University and coined the term, estimates that a quarter of the world’s adult population is now in the precariat.

Secondly, land reform is now geared at servicing the economic needs of black and white rural elites. Land reform budget allocations are spent on the wealthy rather than poor South Africans who are unable to access land.

Thirdly, the structural legacy of dispossession of Africans from land hasn’t been addressed. Failing to resolve this means that a painful political question is left hanging and becomes an easy symbol to manipulate.

So how do these historical and present conditions constitute the conditions for an emancipatory politics? For instance, will rural people who need land to live on or to farm organise to assert claims for restoration?

One possible answer emerges from research undertaken by the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a land rights NGO working with farm dwellers in South Africa’ Kwazulu-Natal province.

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