How to understand, evaluate and influence efficient progress in South Africa’s land reform process: A typology from historical lessons from selected sub-Saharan African countries

Nhlanhla C. Mbatha


Background: With reports of widespread failures in South Africa’s land reform programmes, the levels of policy uncertainty in the political rhetoric that influences land reform have been increasing. Since 1994 policy targets to transfer land to black farmers have not been met. Of the 2005 target to transfer about 25 million ha of commercial farmland to black farmers by 2014, less than 5 million ha. have been transferred for commercial use. Some studies report failure rates in resettlement projects of up to 90%. To account for the failures, revisions of policies and amendments to legislations have been proposed within a political environment that is becoming increasingly intolerant to slow progress in land transfers and to resettlement failures.

Aim: Against this environment, this paper presents a typology for understanding and evaluating important elements of the land reform project in order to influence progress in the process.

Setting: The study adopts a historical review of land reform processes in post-colonial Kenya and Zimbabwe in order to identify potential challenges and key lessons for South Africa.

Methods: Hence, using institutional and historical analytical lenses in exploring different narratives, the paper reviews reported failures and successes in land reform policy cases from the selected countries. From an institutional framework, prevalent social institutions and key lessons from Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, a typology for evaluating important elements of the land reform process in South Africa is developed and discussed. Additionally, a review of global data collected on average sizes of farms in different regions of the world is provided as evidence to support propositions of what would constitute efficient farmland size ranges for small to medium commercial farms in South Africa.

Results and conclusion: A proposition is made on how to use the typology to guide policy and research interventions to reduce failures and promote successful cases in different areas of the land reform process in South Africa, and possibly other similar contexts.


land reform; redistribution; restitution; productivity; typology

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Submitted: 21 June 2017
Published: 04 December 2017

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South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences    |    ISSN: 1015-8812 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2222-3436 (ONLINE)