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Has land reform lost its purpose?

Author: Cherryl Walker and Ben Cousins

FEW ISSUES in contemporary SA arouse as much emotion as “the land question”, or reveal as little clarity on purpose. On radio phone-in shows, on the letters pages of newspapers, in Parliament, in workshops, conferences and the academic literature, a cacophony of voices prevails.

Generally there is little commitment to open debate among groups with opposing views. Tensions over land were heightened during President Jacob Zuma’s first term in office (2009-14), which saw the emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with its strident call for the expropriation of white-owned land without compensation.

Too often, however, contemporary solutions to these problems are based on simplistic formulations that deny or overlook the complexity of the issues at stake. They elevate single elements of the puzzle into simplistic rescriptions: Restore stolen land! Maintain national food security! Respect traditional institutions and culture!

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