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Reflections on South Africa’s Agrarian Questions after 20 years of Democracy

February 5, 2014

Call for Abstracts

The Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town will be hosting an international workshop which will reflect on South Africa’s land and agrarian questions 20 years after the advent of democracy in South Africa. The workshop will be held in the Centre for African Studies gallery on 14 and 15 August 2014.

We invite scholars working on agrarian change, land reform, farm workers, rural development, social movements, trade unions, nature conservation, or eco-tourism in South Africa to submit an abstract. We specifically encourage young and upcoming scholars  with fresh empirical and/or ethnographic material to participate in this event. This includes scholars who have recently completed their PhDs and Phd students in the final stages of their project. The main objective of the workshop is to discuss and share a broad range of themes and explore how new material contributes to and refreshes mainstraim debates in contemporary agrarian scholarship.

The output of the workshop will be to publish a selection of the high quality papers presented in a special issue with a relevant academic journal. To make this possible, presenters must submit a full paper.

Why this workshop now?

After 20 years of democracy, and 20 years of market-led land reform in South Africa, land and agrarian questions remain unresolved. This in many ways is evidenced by the increasingly rising discontent among landless people and the poor; ongoing “service delivery protests”, the farm worker “uprisings” in the Western Cape, Marikana shootings, the housing struggles waged by Abahlali Basemjondolo and the emergence of former ANC Youth League President, Julius Malema and his Ecomic Freedom Fighters who are now articulating grassroots struggles demanding economic justice. These expressions of frustration and demands for social justice and transformation have been met by violent repression by the post-apartheid state and indicate the urgent need to address the process of transformation in South Africa. 

In this context, South Africa’s land and agrarian questions are a relevant and timely matter. There is little doubt that post-apartheid governments have spectacularly failed to redress distorted land ownership patterns and agrarian relations that were inherited from colonialism and apartheid and continue under neo-liberal capitalism. This thus calls for reflections on ongoing debates on the meanings of land, agriculture, and land-based livelihoods in post-apartheid society. Some scholars have reduced the agrarian question to an agrarian question of labour, while others have envisaged repeasantisation as an important outcome of redistributive land reform which can address poverty. Our aim is to reflect, rethink, reconceptualise and reimagine land and agrarian questions.

We welcome papers on one or more of the following themes:

  • The state of land reform in South Africa. What are the outcomes of land reform so far (restitution, redistribution, tenure reform)? How do land beneficiaries make sense of land reform and how has it transformed their lives and the lives of those around them? We hope for contributions of local rural and urban case-studies from different regions, life histories, livelihoods, identity and belonging.
  • Processes of Agrarian change. Does South Africa have a peasantry? To what extent do land and agriculture contribute to (rural) livelihoods in South Africa? Do poor citizens want land, or jobs, or both? How do we conceptualise and think of people who combine wages, entrepreneurship, and land-based livelihoods? Nature conservation, tourism, agro-bussinesses, fair trade, organic farming.
  • Farm workers. Labour questions. Proletarianization. Organization of labour, wages, labour struggles, unions.  
  • Grassroots perspectives. What is the role of social movements and NGOs in articulating and representing South Africa’s land and agrarian questions?
  • South Africa’s Democratic State.The politics of land and agriculture in national and global perspective. Policy-making debates.
  • Theory. In what ways can we articulate and think of South Africa’s agrarian questions? What theoretical questions and insights emerge from South Africa’s agrarian questions?
  • Engaged scholarship. The link between academic debates and activism (action research?!), policy formulation, issues of representation, positionality of researchers.

Deadline for Abstracts is 15 February 2014 and 1 July 2014 for the full paper. Abstracts should not be more than 300 words and papers should be within the 8000 word limit. For submission of abstracts, papers and queries, please do not hesitate to email:

Organizers: Grasian Mkodzongi, A.C. Jordan Post-Doctoral Fellow: A.C. Jordan Chair in African Studies and Femke Brandt, Post-doc fellow: NRF Research Chair in Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa.