Towards Democratic Justice? Land Reform in South Africa:
This article theoretically establishes the interconnections between justice and democracy, and empirically explores the case of land reform in South Africa in the light of these interconnections. Firstly, it argues that democracy must ensure the realisation of social justice in order to create the conditions for human freedom and a truly inclusive and legitimate democracy. Secondly, the article argues that justice must also be subject to democratisation, i.e. public participation and deliberation on what should be distributed, how and to whom, termed democratic justice. In South Africa, there are significant concerns about the lack of redistribution and the continued exclusion of the poor, meaning that democratic justice is some way far from being achieved. INTRODUCTION
Many countries across the world are now democratic and apparently place liberty and welfare at the centre of their value and policy systems. However, poverty, vulnerability and inequality remain major social problems, most starkly in former colonised countries facing the legacy of historical repression. Movements struggling for social justice and theorists concerned with such issues are increasingly highlighting the interconnections of democracy and justice, in particular how democracy requires social justice and how social justice (henceforth termed justice) must be democratic. This article examines the theoretical aspects of such interconnections and considers what this means for the case of land reform in South Africa.
Centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid have made South Africa one of the most unequal countries in the world and the distribution of land is a major aspect of such inequality. Through repressive legislation based on racist ideology, black people were denied civil and political rights, and excluded from economic rights such as benefiting from the resources of the country. White governments supported white agriculture, jobs and industry through subsidies and job guarantees, and ensured black people would provide a cheap labour force. The scale of land dispossession was vast. Those defined as Africans were segregated into tribal reserves, called Bantustans or homelands, governed by Native Authorities. Under the 1913 Land Act 7 per cent of land was allocated for these reserves, increasing to 13 per cent in 1936. Apartheid, which began in 1948 under the National Party, cemented these policies. Millions of African, coloured and Indian people were forcibly moved from cities to townships on the outskirts and from ‘black-spots’ in white-designated areas to the Bantustans. By the end of apartheid in 1994, more than a third of the total population (16 million people) lived in the overcrowded and poorly resourced Bantustans (Thompson, 2006). Millions more lived in townships and squatter camps with inadequate housing and poor sanitation, water and electricity supply. Overall, just 60,000 white farmers owned over 70 per cent of the land (Ntsebeza, 2004).
Of central concern in the newly democratic South Africa was the issue of how to repair the damage of the past and ensure a better life for those excluded and dispossessed through reparative and redistributive justice. Land reform was seen as essential to this. It has been described as central to the future of democracy in South Africa and key to combatting poverty, stimulating economic growth and creating a more equal society (Gibson, 2008). For countries subjected to brutal institutionalised racism like South Africa, access to and rights over land can provide redress, reconstitute community identity and ensure livelihoods - in sum, as Moyo and Hall (2007: 153) argue, ‘provide the basis for full citizenship’.
Why describe land reform as central to the future of democracy? Evoked in such a statement is the sense that democracy both promises and requires a level of equality and justice. There is a vast literature...
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