Understanding land redistribution policy-making and policy implementation: Case studies from the Eastern Cape

Policy-making and policy implementation are complex and convoluted processes involving both technical-rational and competitive dimensions, and they entail questions around what governments do, how they do it and why they do it, as well as the consequences of state actions for society as a whole. This article examines policy-making and policy implementation, and the relationship between them, with regard to land redistribution in the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa.



Since 1994, the South African state has developed and implemented a wide range of land reform policies. Land reform, as stipulated in the Constitution, is comprised of three pillars:

Land Restitution, which seeks to return specific tracts of land of great historical, cultural or ancestral significance;

Land Tenure, which is supposed to address the legacy of communal tenure in former homelands and the rights of tenants on predominately commercial farms; and

Land Redistribution, which focuses on the overall racially imbalanced ownership of land arising from colonial dispossession and tries to restore land to landless black citizens without necessarily compromising agricultural productivity.

This article focuses on redistribution, which has gone through a range of specific nation-wide programmes since the mid-1990s. Since its introduction, the laudable aim of land redistribution has been subordinated to market-led land redistribution in which the state regulates, assists and facilitates market transactions and post-settlement support on redistributed farms.

Furthermore, an examination of the three sequential redistribution programmes, often referred to by their acronyms SLAG (Settlement Land Acquisition Grant), LRAD (Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development) and PLAS (Proactive Land Redistribution Strategy), make it clear that there is an increasingly ‘productivist’ emphasis; in other words, production in-and-of-itself on redistributed farms is now the key objective.

The land policy formulation process in South Africa is complex, marked by significant intra-state tension and dynamic interaction between multiple actors. Likewise, implementation of redistribution programmes entails a complex mix of state bodies, which do not necessarily act in any coordinated and uniform manner. Implementation, in the case of land redistribution, involves land and agricultural ministries at both central and provincial levels, as well as both district and local municipalities. The relationship between these state bodies is often characterised by confusion, absence of coordination, competition and conflict, all of which clearly impacts on the redistribution of land and resettlement of farmers at farm level.

For instance, in the case of land redistribution policy formulation it is possible to speak of two cycles during the first ten years of democracy (Hall, 2009). Though the delineation of policy cycles cannot be reduced neatly to ministerial changes, the replacement in 1999 of land minister Derek Hanekom by Thoko Didiza reflected deeper divisions within the land ministry around land policy. Hanekom had a reasonably open relationship with the National Land Committee which represented landless people and their concerns and, under his ministerial oversight, the SLAG programme – which was more about redistribution than productivity – was introduced (Davids, Habib and Southhall, 2003:331). Didiza soon replaced SLAG with the LRAD programme, which was more directly in line with World Bank thinking about land reform, private titling and agricultural productivity. Despite Didiza’s occasional threats about expropriation of land in the unspecified future, the relationship between the state and agro-business seemed more cordial during her ministerial reign (Davids, Habib and Southhall, 2003:333).

The intricacies of this division-ridden process within the state, cutting across both agricultural and land ministries, and the shifts in land policies, is ably discussed by Wiedeman (2004) at least for the 1993 to 2000 period. Regrettably, no such comparable analysis exists for the post-2004 period when the PLAS programme was introduced and this article hopefully will be able to offer some insights into this latter period. At the same time, any shifts with specific reference to land policy content, and changes in the very character of the policy formulation process, need to be understood as part of a broader restructuring of the policy formulation process in South Africa and changes in the state-society relationship and interface (Mbatha, 2014:5).



Overall, the meaningful participation of farmers in actual and potential land redistribution in the formulation and implementation of land redistribution policies and programmes is minimal if not entirely non-existent. This is despite the fact that the state has initiated and organised numerous workshops on land over the past 20 years in which it has engaged with civil society organisations around land issues. Rarely have potential or actual land redistribution farmers been present at such workshops, in large part because they remain nearly completely unorganised. Instead, NGOs have tended to dominate these workshops. At the same time, NGOs have organised alternative workshops (without inviting state land officials) attended by small and isolated grassroots groups (a mix of farm workers from commercial farms, former Bantustan residents and redistribution farmers). In doing so, a list of land demands are often formulated and then issued to the state. These demands go far beyond current state land policies, including calls for expropriation of land, but the state has in large part ignored these calls for radical land reform.

In this sense, policy-making (including around land redistribution) represents a degree of continuity with the apartheid state, despite the more inclusive and democratic electoral system since 1994. The former Research Manager for the Investigative Division of the Commission for Restitution of Land Rights for the Eastern Cape and Free State (as well as currently Director of the Board of the NGO called Border Rural Committee), Monty Roodt said about post-apartheid continuities when speaking of the market-led land reform process:


The impact of apartheid is enormous. I mean 7-9% was allocated to blacks in reserves in 1913 which was later increased to 13% in 1936. And that was supposedly set aside for more than 80% of the population. This was inherited in 1994 and of course the response to land reform which some people regard as inadequate because of the willing buyer-willing seller clause which basically entrenches centuries of colonial dispossession.


The ongoing existence of the willing buyer-willing seller model of land redistribution is testimony to the insensitivity of the post-apartheid state to popular demands around land, as it reflects the importance rather of multilateral financial institutions and notably the World Bank – and often through quite explicit and direct inputs – in the formulation of land redistribution policy. This, as Roodt argues, simply reproduces the colonial and apartheid practice of land dispossession. Overall then, land redistribution policies seem to reflect the interests of agrarian capital and the World Bank.

In this context, several observers and commentators have criticised land policy formulation (including in relation to the Eastern Cape). Hadju (2006), for example, points to the still-existing unequal power relations between policy-makers and local actors (including potential and actual land redistribution farmers), leaving the latter with the notion that they have limited control over their own future (Hebnick and Cousins, 2013:18). Public policy-making is meant to be inclusive of a range of key groupings, including legislators at national, provincial and local government levels, state office bearers, civil society and the broader body politic (Ijeoma, 2013:227). In practice, this often does take place. Thus the former Director of Parks and Recreation, Kevin Bates, explains that:


When it comes to policy-making, by-laws are what basically entail public involvement in the making of policies. Us officials have the so-called professional knowledge and stand by council and to pass a by-law you need public participation.


Regrettably, this public participation is often absent. Just as the content of land redistribution policies and programmes increasingly entail some form of elite capture (as discussed earlier) the process leading to these policies and programmes also entails a form of elite capture. To reiterate, power is unequally distributed such that policy-making is not driven by public demands. As noted by Roodt, “There is serious power imbalance; for instance the rural people don’t really have trade unions to represent them or social movements or powerful NGOs”.

This means that an inclusive policy process around land redistribution policy is difficult to guarantee, if only because there is no sustained pressure on the state from popular organisations to act as a counterweight to the dominant interests of powerful agrarian constituencies in the country and the state’s inclination to work alongside them. Radical demands for land reform are therefore overlooked by the state or at least not taken seriously. Nomonde Kiaka-Kahpha, a community development worker co-ordinating a land access and resource management programme at Masifunde (an NGO in Grahamstown), shared her views on whether Masifunde had ever been involved in the process of land policy-making in any genuine sense. She explained:


As with other organisations in the region we are always challenging that space, [but] we are not given that space because they [the government] say we are anti-government. We take part when there are policy proposals; then we will show the bill to the people concerned and explain it to them. So this is what we are doing as an organisation on the ground. Our recommendations are seldom, almost never, taken into account. We deal with the aftermath of the policies.


Based on this, it can be seen that the policy-making process (with particular focus on land redistribution in the Eastern Cape) easily marginalises groups which are meant to be engaged in the process of making public policy in South Africa. In describing the power relations between policy-makers and civil society, a former Director of Land Affairs in the Eastern Cape, Michael Kenyon, in fact claimed that marginalisation from policy-making is broader than already argued. He claims that:


The policy process in the Eastern Cape has been racist because it has excluded white commercial farmers who have expertise; some of them are hostile to land reform but not all of them are hostile. You can’t ignore them, you have got to take them on board; how you do it is a different matter. What input do farm workers have into the policy process/people trying to farm in the trust [former Bantustan] areas? What are their particular needs? They may have different needs and different requirements of policy.


While I find it difficult to comment on the claim about the marginalisation of white farmers in the Eastern Cape, Kenyon does highlight that the voices of farm workers and former Bantustan residents (and presumably other land-hungry people) are not being heard and their “requirements of policy” are probably not being incorporated into land redistribution policies. [By] Having a policy-making process on land which is in the main exclusive and elite-driven simply reproduces an apartheid-style of governance though in a less extreme form.

In the end, all relevant groupings have knowledge around land issues in post-apartheid South Africa, and they construct it in contrasting ways (Van Zyl, Kirsten and Binswanger, 1996:200-201), with some relying on everyday experience and others on technical expertise. But particular bodies of knowledge are privileged in shaping the policy-making on land redistribution, and often this is knowledge generated by so-called experts or (as discussed above) knowledge backed by power. This knowledge is often based on ill-conceived assumptions and assertions about the problems ingrained within the land question in contemporary South Africa, such that lives and livelihoods of rural people continue to be marked by poverty, marginalisation and inequality. Thus, the form and content of land redistribution policy-making reflects the values, preferences and aspirations of economic and political elites.



To quote again from the Masifunde community development worker, “Our recommendations are seldom, almost never taken into account. We deal with the aftermath of the policies.” In a very real sense, this seems to encapsulate the state of affairs when it comes to the land redistribution policy process. Landless and land-hungry rural people in contemporary South Africa only have the opportunity to engage with this policy at the implementation stage; but even then questions may be raised about the extent and character of this engagement.

In this context, Sinoxolo Gqala from the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs argues: “The principle of the ‘willing buyer-willing seller’ has hindered our people from getting land through redistribution. Government has implemented policies which had good intent but in reality have not been so successful because of other hindrances.”

Roodt, formerly of the commission on land restitution, also stresses a similar point: “The fact that the state needs to buy land for the beneficiaries is a major impediment, the cost is huge and what tends to happen is that people inflate the prices to cash in on the process of redistribution.”

Land redistribution is taking place in the context of a neo-liberal paradigm, a paradigm which has been regularly criticised by land-based NGOs and the grassroots groups associated with them. This market-driven model of redistribution is facilitated and implemented by the state, a state which does not even incorporate grassroots groups into the implementation process in any meaningful way – it is, in effect, simply imposed upon them. Hence, even in the case of business plans drawn up by Communal Property Associations (CPAs) for their respective redistribution projects, they are required to incorporate a strategic partner and ensure that the partner receives payment for services rendered. This is despite ongoing concerns expressed by the farmers about the racist and patronising inclinations of white mentors and the exorbitant payments received by them.

This though may not simply reflect neo-liberal inclinations amongst state officials, as intimated by the critique of the willing buyer-willing seller approach in the quotation from Gqala. A serious problem which hinders implementation of land redistribution policies is the question of state capacity, including efficient and adequate leadership within the state to implement redistribution policies effectively. The former Director of Land Affairs, Michael Kenyon, based on his institutional memory and subsequent developments, highlights the following:


Leadership within the state body is certainly problematic, between political and senior executives. If you look at how many director generals and ministers there have been in the department of rural development and land reform. What continuities have there been in the executive management? That in itself says there have been too many challenges and a lot of levels of consistency and too many bad decisions. I think top management and political management has to take responsibility.


The discontinuities and sometimes outright confusion within the land (and agricultural) departments within the state bureaucracy, which exists at all levels, speaks to incapacity problems and inhibits the prospect of engaging in a highly consultative process when it comes to implementation of land redistribution polices at farm level.

Under the state’s flagship National Development Plan of 2012, and despite a new stress on broad-based and comprehensive rural development, there is clear confirmation of the prominence of productivist land reform practices, including strategic partnerships (Hebnick and Cousins 2013:38). This is also made clear in recent policies from 2013 related to land reform and redistribution, including the State Land Lease and Disposal Policy (SLDP), the Recapitalisation and Development Programme Policy (RDPP) and the Agricultural Landholding Policy Framework (ALPF). These policies effectively redefine the very character of land redistribution in South Africa.

I will discuss these three policies introduced under the programme PLAS in 2013 which are tuned to building an emergent black commercial agricultural class, and how the implementation of these policies is experienced by the people it impacts, the land beneficiary farmers.

SLDP categorises farmers as small-scale and large-scale; however, it is claimed that in practice it prioritises large-scale farmers. Because of this, resource-poor people become marginalised under PLAS. Successful PLAS farmer applicants for example are likely to be those with already existing business interests (or with some capital to invest) such that a landless or land-hungry resident from the former Ciskei or Transkei would not be taken seriously as an applicant.

The explicit objective of the RDPP is to “usher black emerging farmers into the agricultural value chain as quickly as possible’ (Rural Development and Land Reform 2013:17). RDPP offers an amount of money to Communal Property Associations (CPAs) to buy necessary agricultural implements for the functioning of the farm. But this leads to a relationship of extreme dependency and reliance on the state such that if RDPP were to be discontinued, PLAS farmers may go under. As a farmer from the Outspan project in a farm outside Grahamstown explained, “we need money from the government. This usually really assists us in getting through with the farming. Without the government we can’t do anything.”

It is clear to see that for productivity to take place at farm level, it is very important for both government and the farmers to meet each other half-way: government, by ensuring that the resources needed by the farmers for productivity are sufficient, and the farmers by using those resources effectively and wisely and equipping themselves with a skill-set to ensure sustainability and longevity in farming.

The rationale of the ALPF is to attain higher levels of efficiency of land use and to optimise “total factor productivity” (Van Wyk, 2014: 1). The key objectives of the policy are to “facilitate the participation of small farmers into mainstream agriculture” and “facilitate the redistribution of land and agricultural landholdings to co-operatives and family-owned landholdings” (Rural Development and Land Reform, 2013:17). In so doing, the ALPF is calling for all redistribution beneficiaries to assume relationships with the private sector (elements from within agrarian capital) as only then can redistribution serve the functions of productivity and profitability (Van Wyk, 2014).

ALPF assumes that strategic partnerships are a key way forward for land redistribution farmers to be productive farmers. However, this in itself does not take into account how strategic partnerships have transpired, or have been implemented, on farms where LRAD and PLAS farmers are in partnerships. Particularly noteworthy is the social relationships which exist within these partnerships. In this respect, there is a significant degree of discontent amongst farmers. As a Masizakhe Communal Property Association farmer said:


Mentoring should be about showing us the way. We have been on that farm for almost a decade but there is nothing although the mentorship has just started in 2010. When you follow this you find that you are being cheated openly. The problem is that there is no transparency, especially with the man we are with under the ‘strategic partnership’. The irony of the CPA being called Masizakhe (let us build ourselves) but we have a mentor that we do not really trust nor does he allow us to build ourselves. The mentor is supposed to teach people according to the constitution but that is not what is being done and when you try to challenge this you are seen as an agitator. That is the problem – really (Masizakhe ‘Litha’ Farmer, 2014).


Another farmer from the CPA said, “If you want to see apartheid you must go to that farm which I am a CPA member of”. This is a very bold claim, as it effectively means that the relationship between the mentor and the mentee farmers on this farm is marked by racist attitudes and the white farmer who is the mentor is seen as patronising ‑ at least from the perspective of the beneficiary farmers.



Reflecting on the land redistribution policies which have been implemented there is clear acknowledgement that the SLAG, LRAD and PLAS programmes have serious shortcomings. What would be useful is an analysis of actors who interact at the operational/local level on a particular issue and include those directly affected and involved in land redistribution. If combined with projected timeframes we could be taking a step in the direction of realising a bottom-up perspective rather than the conventional top-down approach that seems to be the practice so far.

My findings show that land reform has been dominated by state institutions and recent shifts in policy have done nothing more than continue the top-down, technocratic tendency of the past, with predictable emphasis on conventional models of land use based on large-scale commercial farming. This kind of public policy-making and implementation is consequently a pitfall of the land redistribution tier of land reform as experienced by its beneficiaries.

By Nonzuzo Mbokazi

This article appeared in New Agenda Issue 71. Subscribe to New Agenda here!



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This paper was first presented at The IFAA Forum, a platform for young progressives to share academic work and debate topical issues.

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