Land reform and livelihoods in South Africa's Northern Cape province
This thesis sets out to examine the extent to which the South African government's
land reform programme might provide a way out of poverty for its beneficiaries. The
research was undertaken with two previously marginalised rural communities situated
in the Northern Cape province of South Africa that had recently been granted land
through the restitution and redistribution components of the programme.
The methodology used to undertake the research was the so-called livelihoods
approach or framework. The results emphasised the low asset status of most
households and their striking dependence upon public transfers, in particular old age
pensions and disability grants. For better-off households, it is participation in paid
employment that enables them to avoid poverty.
Another insight from the research was that unemployment levels in the study groups
when compared to provincial and national averages are extremely high and poorer
households are more severely affected than richer ones. Although the ANC has been
in power for nearly 10 years and has repealed previous discriminatory apartheid
legislation, it is evident that poor black people remain unable to access factor and
product markets. The institutional legacies of apartheid coupled with the post-1994
liberal macro-economic policies of the government have combined to give rise to an
environment that weakens the effectiveness of poverty reduction policies.
The research demonstrates unequivocally that restituting or redistributing land that is
geographically remote from the residence location of the beneficiaries, and with no
service or technical support to assist them with start-up agricultural activities,
provides no effective solution to reducing poverty in rural South Africa. This weak
leverage on poverty reduction is exacerbated for one of the study groups by
legislation that prohibits the beneficiaries from building homesteads on the land they
Considering the current failure of the land reform programme to meet its poverty
reduction objectives, this thesis proposes that land should only be made available to
poor people in smaller quantities and near their homes so that they can utilise it with
minimal outside support. Accepting that land reform is unlikely to have a substantial
effect on poverty reduction, other policies such as public works programmes and
human capital development are discussed as alternative policy strands.