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22 March 2013
Land Divided 2013

Land Divided: Land and South African Society in 2013, in Comparative Perspective

Dates: 24-27 March 2013

Venue: Robert Leslie Social Sciences Building 

University of Cape Town (Upper Campus)

South Africa's land issues take centre stage at high-profile conference

This year marks the centenary of the notorious 1913 Land Act. As it was a hundred years ago, land in South Africa in 2013 remains a contentious issue. With the centenary of this Act, the focus inevitably falls on its devastating impact and the scars it has left on the South African landscape and psyche. As we grapple with these impacts today, political rhetoric on the subject of land reform often grabs the headlines.

But what can we learn from contemporary research and other contexts? What new ways of thinking — about land as a social, economic and natural resource — can break through the polarised discourses, to steer us towards a shared understanding of South African land? These are just some of the questions that will be explored at a conference entitled, Land Divided: Land and South African Society in 2013, in Comparative Perspective taking place from 24-27 March 2013 and collaboratively hosted by three Western Cape Universities – University of the Western Cape, University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University.

The conference and the centenary it commemorates present a major opportunity for researchers, civil society and the state to reflect on the significance of ‘the land question’ in South African society. More than 180 papers by leading scholars and researchers, share the platform with rural voices such as Ms Prisca Shabalala from the Rural Women’s Movement, and high profile speakers —  including the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti who will open the conference and well known academic and business woman Dr Mamphela Ramphele speaking at the first plenary.

Giving voice to a range of understandings about land, the conference addresses not just the legacy of the 1913 Land Act, but also  the history of dispossession pre-dating the act; explorations of land reform and agrarian policy in southern Africa; papers on identity, rights and belonging; and analysis of the ecological challenges around South African land.

One panel will debate land and agricultural policy challenges in Southern Africa today. Prof Mohammad Karaan, Dean of the Faculty of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University and a member of the National Planning Commission, will explore the realities of South African agriculture and the implications for policy. Prof Ruth Hall of PLAAS will review the ‘usual suspects’ in land reform debates (30% target, willing buyer-willing seller) and the ‘unmentionables’ (class, gender, subdivision, corporate agribusiness expansion) mapping out the choices that must be made about land and agrarian reform. Executive Director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, Prof Sam Moyo will explore Zimbabwe’s redistributive land reform and agrarian reforms since 2000 and its significance for South Africa, and Prof Henry Bernstein of the University of London will situate today’s land reform and agrarian challenges in a global context.

Authors Dr Jacob Dlamini (Native Nostalgia), Prof Antjie Krog (Country of My Skull), Prof Robert Muponde (Manning the Nation), and Prof Cheryl Walker (Landmarked) will examine the complexities of identity, rights and belonging, from multiple points of view, including women and gender, surplus people, masculinity and fatherhood, stereotypes of black life, white South African identity, memory, guilt, sorrow and joy.

But land is not just about political contestation, rural life, and an intrinsic part of identity formation. Increasingly, land is about environmental degradation, encroachment onto sensitive eco-systems, conservation (and the ways conservation is used to exclude), and human impact on climate. Prof Jacklyn Cock of Wits University, Prof Maano Ramutsindela and Prof Timm Hoffman of the University of Cape Town, and Prof Phil Woodhouse of the University of Manchester will consider how we can incorporate a human rights perspective, the need for redress alongside the urgent need to address the global environmental challenges confronting us.

The conference will explore the intersections between these themes, and begin to fulfil the need for fresh analyses and new ways of thinking, in ways that are mindful of the past, but also forward-looking.

For more information or to attend the event, please contact: PLAAS Information and Communication Officer Rebecca Pointer at or 021 959 3731.