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Investigating the performance of land restitution projects: a case study of Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal.

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The land question is significant for South Africans on many levels. Enhancing and improving the productive capacity of land to achieve developmental gains has taken on particular importance in the face of food security needs and world economic challenges. However, post-apartheid land reform and rural development policies have had negligible impacts on the livelihoods of land reform beneficiaries. The few success stories stand in stark contrast to the majority of settled claims where little or no productive activity is taking place and few, if any, benefits have yet accrued to beneficiaries. This study has sought to interrogate the ways in which beneficiaries of land-based restitution awards have responded to the inherent difficulties in building sustainable and productive agricultural enterprises. The qualitative case studies - consisting of seven restitution claims located in Richmond, KZN - explore whether and how beneficiaries are utilising their newly acquired land, and attempts to gauge how the restitution of land has affected their livelihood opportunities. In most cases, the settled claims are not delivering immediate livelihood benefits to claimant communities. The gap between the ambitious promise of land restored and the reality on the ground is attributable to both structural and micro-level factors. Despite the seemingly intractable challenges however, through following a diversity of income-generation strategies, some beneficiary groups are making a success of their newly acquired land mindful of the fact that livelihood benefits will have to be deferred for some time as projects wobble onto their feet. The study concludes that in undoing the legacy of land dispossession and improving livelihoods of beneficiaries, solutions to the land question must address both the agrarian structure driven as it is by neo-liberal agricultural policies at the macro level as well as pervasive micro level dynamics of internal conflicts, resource constraints and weak accountability mechanisms. Improving the sustainability of land reform projects is important, as doing so will not only realise the goal of achieving much-needed socially just and equitable rural development but will also improve food security, develop local economies, provide employment and support broader economic development.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.