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Greenberg, Stephen (2004) The Landless People’s Movement and the Failure of Postapartheid Land Reform.  Centre for Civil Society Research Report 26: 1-40.

In 2001, representatives of landless formations from around South Africa came together to form a national umbrella to take their struggles forward in a united way. The resultant Landless People’s Movement (LPM) has arisen in a context of the negative effects of years of belt-tightening fiscal policies on the poor and marginalised majority of the country, following the adoption of the neo-liberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macroeconomic strategy in 1996. Despite the historically significant process of political democratisation, marked by the first universal democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, economic restructuring has favoured the owners of economic power over those without. The African National Congress (ANC) continues to provide the political leadership for an alliance that groups large-scale capital with the organised working class to pursue seemingly common interests based on a developmental platform. The resulting corporatist arrangement, exemplified by the tripartite National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), ties a redistributive project to capitalist economic growth based on an export-led strategy. While the inward-looking apartheid economic institutions and regulations are dismantled in favour of outward-looking institutions and regulations that facilitated globally competitive economic activity, social policies are designed to play a welfarist role to ameliorate the fallout of economic restructuring. This is coupled with the ‘marketisation’ of social services, where potential citizens entitled to social services are transformed into customers (clients or consumers) who have to pay for these services.

In rural and urban areas alike, the most marginalised under apartheid bear a heavy burden in post-apartheid economic restructuring. Farm dwellers and labour tenants face mass retrenchments and evictions as landowners are exposed to global competition and reorganise their product mixes and workforces. The needs of women, whose tenure on farms and in communal lands is least secure, are highlighted in policy but seldom in practice. Residents of informal settlements in and around major conurbations find that investment friendly government policies are raising the value of the land they live on but do not have legal access to, greatly increasing their tenure insecurity as owners speculate and clear the land for future development. Political channels to deal with this are closed as residents remain disorganised, it is said that the ruling party imposes its control over channels for public participation, and local planning and development objectives are increasingly skewed towards the interests of the capitalist economy.

This context saw the rise of a number of grassroots movements that are politically independent of the ruling Alliance and organise in opposition to the government’s macro-economic policies and its negative effects. A loose alliance has developed between the landless movement and these other formations in their common antagonism to evictions and forced removals, water and electricity cut-offs and failure to deliver on promises made in the ANC’s 1994 manifesto for transformation, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). The latter includes tenure security for all, and a transfer of at least 30% of agricultural land within the first 5 years of democracy.

The basic demands of the movement include the rapid and wide redistribution of land to the landless, and secure tenure for all. Based on the failure of the government’s ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ model of land reform, the movement is calling for a review of this policy and its replacement with a new and more effective process not so tightly based on the market. The movement also calls for an end to evictions, whether on farms or in informal and other settlements, and a process of transferring land to those residing and working on it. The movement has targeted land occupations as one method of redistributing land through the self-activity of the landless, and has identified unproductive, unused or underused land and land belonging to abusive farmers as the focus for initial redistribution.

This research report was constructed on the basis of a participatory action research methodology. The key principles of this method are that research should play a direct role in building independent grassroots organisation, and that the subjects of the research drive the research agenda. The research must be a useful contribution to consolidating and carrying forward the independent programme of the subject organisation, i.e. knowledge is generated for purposes of action (Babbie et al. 2001:314). Provincial structures of the LPM in Gauteng and Mpumalanga selected a team of research assistants/trainees to work with the lead researcher . The research process was driven by participant observation, which translated into active engagement with the structures of the movement at branch, provincial and national levels. The research team conducted around 140 semi-structured interviews with movement members and activists at all these levels, but mainly at branch level. Less formal, ongoing dialogue with movement members and supporting activists from around the country supplemented these interviews throughout the period of research.

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