Land Reform

Four scenarios of land reform in South Africa

What is the future of land reform in South Africa? Can the process be accelerated? Will it produce equitable outcomes? Whose interests will be served? What will be the impact on food security and South Africa’s young democracy?

These are some of the burning questions asked across the country and about which there are widely divergent views – some optimistic, some ominous.

Land Reform Futures: Four scenarios for land reform in South Africa contains four scenarios about what could happen in the context of land reform in South Africa by 2030. These are not predictions of what will happen or recommendations about what should happen. Instead they are narratives of what could happen. The stories are designed to trigger an open and constructive search for strategic responses to thorny questions of land reform. They aim to provide a common framework to start conversations, debate and decision-making about how to adapt to anticipated challenges and opportunities, or how to shape the future of land reform.

Why and how were these scenarios developed?

The scenarios were developed to trigger an open and constructive search for strategic responses to the future of land reform. Because scenarios are stories – that is, fictions – they support informed debate without committing anyone to any particular policy position. They enable us to deal with the fact that, while we cannot predict or control the future, we can work with and influence it.

The scenarios building process was convened and supported by the Vumelana Advisory Fund, which contracted Reos Partners to manage the process. The scenarios were developed by 40 people who approach land reform from widely differing perspectives: policy makers and administrators, traditional leaders, communal property institution leaders, activists, business people, academics and consultants. The team’s discussions took into account the views of over 100 people about land reform.

Certainties and uncertainties

When they cast their imaginations forward to 2030, the scenario team spent considerable time talking about their certainties and uncertainties. The team was reasonably certain that high levels of poverty and inequality will persist, natural, financial and human resources will be constrained, institutional weakness and corruption will continue, and the dry El Nino weather cycle will have long-term consequences.

Uncertainties were captured in unanswered questions: How will the political landscape unfold? When will economic growth pick up? How might patterns of land use and tenure change? Will it be possible to develop a common vision for land reform? What leadership will come from government, business, the landless poor, traditional leaders, young people and commercial farmers?

The four scenarios tell stories of how South Africans might respond to the challenges and uncertainties they face about the future of land reform. They are differentiated by the world views of different stakeholders about the meaning of land. In each scenario, stakeholder action influences the character of land reform and shapes who ‘wins’ and ‘loses’ in the land reform stakes.

Scenario 1: Connection and capture

"A story of land as power"

This is a story about land reform being captured by politically connected interest groups who benefit at the expense of ordinary people.

The story unfolds in the context of harsh economic conditions, rising power of traditional leaders, weak communal property associations and other institutions, and growing political pressure on the ruling party.

Political pressure drives a search for allies. Following losses in the 2016 local government elections, the ruling party moves to increase its support ahead of the 2019 election. Traditional leaders gain more control of land in communal areas, which indirectly strengthens the ruling party’s support in these areas. The number of new restitution claims exceed expectations and include large pre-1913 claims from royal families and Khoisan communities.

Political connections and weak institutions encourage self-serving behaviour. In 2019 the ruling party survives the challenge to its power, partly in thanks to support from traditional leaders. Some traditional leaders use their power to serve their people; others choose to benefit themselves. Some leaders of trusts and communal property associations do deals that benefit themselves and enrich commercial partners. The lack of transparent procedures in the redistribution programme allow the well-connected to benefit. The government seems to be unable to hold the beneficiaries of land reform to account.

Where does it lead by 2030?

Land reform has been largely captured by the well-connected. There is a sense that the powerful are entitled to exploit the system for their own benefit. The winners are those who hold power and broker deals. The losers are ordinary people outside the networks of patronage. There is very little tenure security for rural households and women remain particularly disadvantaged.

The land is used for the benefit of the few. In communal areas land previously used for crops is now used for communal grazing and communal property institutions are involved in disjointed production. The redistribution programme has spawned mining and other deals that scar the landscape. Large commercial farms increasingly dominate the countryside and water resources remain scarce.

South Africa is polarising along ethnic lines. The anti-corruption movement is growing but doesn’t have much effect on election outcomes. Towns and cities become more densely populated and rural areas are economically in decline.

Scenario 2: Market power and concentration

"A story of land as a productive asset"

In this story, land reform changes the racial profile of concentrated commercial farming without broadening ownership to small farmers and local communities.

This story unfolds in the context of slow growth, deepening poverty and rising inequality, declining public resources, rising pressure on the government, dwindling support for the ruling party, and growing demands from an expanding urban population.

Fiscal constraints and rising urban pressure frustrate attempts to accelerate land reform. After the 2019 elections the ruling party tries to increase the pace of land reform and the courts are clogged with challenges to expropriation. Rising demands on state funds squeeze the land reform budget. It becomes clear that commercial farming must be supported to feed an expanding population, grow the economy and provide employment.

Private initiatives look like a way out for the government. Surveys show that more land has been transferred to black farmers through the market than previously understood. Community private partnerships are showing good results.

The government moves to expand the role of the private sector in land reform. Incentive packages are developed to encourage partnerships and support programmes are set up for black commercial farmers. Mechanisms are developed to draw private finance into the land reform programme.

Where does it lead by 2030?

By 2030 the target of transferring 30% of commercial farmland to black South Africans has been achieved. Black South Africans own about half of the country’s commercial farms. Commercial partnerships and shareholding schemes take centre stage on rural land. More than 50% of forestry and sugarcane production is controlled by communal property associations and trusts.

The structure of agriculture has not changed. The number of commercial farms has reduced to 20 000 (from 40 000 in 2016) and smallholders still struggle to get a foothold with limited support. Communal areas remain neglected by state support.

The cities take centre stage and the focus on land reform declines. Over 70% of the population lives in or near cities, while household food security remains a problem for the poor. For many the ‘Land Question’ has not been resolved. A young generation is growing up hungry, landless and marginalised on urban fringes and in rural areas, so the threat of conflict remains.

Scenario 3: Occupation and confiscation

"A story about taking back the land"

Deepening hardship and hunger drive a countrywide campaign of illegal occupation and invasion, eventually leading to confiscation without compensation, made possible by a change in the Constitution.

This story unfolds in the context of slow growth, deepening poverty and rising inequality, declining public resources and rising pressure on the government, dwindling support for the ruling party and an expanding urban population.

The action is driven by landless people and the idea that land is a symbol of dispossession under colonialism and apartheid. The winners are those who occupy the land and have that occupation legitimised as confiscation without compensation. The immediate losers are those whose land is occupied and confiscated.

Inaction by leaders across sectors heightens the frustration of the poor. Leaders from government, business and civil society blame one another for harsh social and economic conditions and the poor results of land reform … but fail to act decisively. Deepening hardship and hunger create the impetus for the growth of landless people’s movements. There is a countrywide campaign of land invasion and occupation.

Following its 2022 conference, the ruling party sides with opposition parties to amend the Constitution. The government fears anarchy. The illegal occupation of the land is ratified as confiscation without compensation and court challenges prove futile. Investment dries up and commercial farming starts to collapse.

The political manoeuvre backfires. Opposition parties are given credit for transforming land ownership. The ANC deal to change the Constitution backfires and it loses the 2029 election. Sixty per cent of commercial farmland is now in the hands of black South Africans.

Where does it lead by 2030?

Land reform as a systematic state-driven programme has been overrun by popular movements who have driven land reform from below.

What is happening on the land? The land is in the hands of those who occupied it. Former farm owners who could do so have fled to other parts of Africa. On some farms production is virtually at subsistence levels, on others a surplus is still marketed. Agricultural infrastructure is collapsing and national agricultural production has plummeted. There is increasing reliance on imported food.

What is happening in the country? There is no clear constitutional framework for dealing with land, nor policies for agricultural development that take account of the new reality. A new government comprising former opposition groups with competing views on land and agriculture is in power. Investment has dried up and government is trying to raise money from its BRICS allies. A rising number of farm occupiers and many of the urban poor go hungry and the future is uncertain.

Scenario 4: hard bargaining and compromise

"A story about sharing the land"

This is a story about an inclusive approach to land reform with a pro-poor orientation.

Policy makers create an enabling environment in which a wide range of actors can contribute to land reform. Hard talk and compromises by government, small-scale farmers, land reform beneficiaries, civil society organisations and financing partners open the way for a collaborative approach. The idea of an inclusive approach focused on the poor takes hold. Multiple forms of ownership, tenure, land use and scale of operations emerge. Smallholder farmers and the previously excluded rural poor are the winners and the losers are those who use the land as a source of patronage and privilege.

The context eases. Initially growth is slow and poverty and inequality are ingrained, but gradually global conditions ease. Social compacts between strategic partners pave the way for increased growth in South Africa.

In the build-up to the 2019 elections there is rising pressure on the ruling party. Public resources are declining and leadership changes must be negotiated. A groundswell in the ruling party demands a change in trajectory. Following the elections new leaders bring a new approach. With reduced support the ruling party moves to share the burden of governance. However, building a fair and prosperous country is not just a task for the government; all citizens must be enabled to play their part. The minister of rural development and land reform moves to work in partnership with farmers big and small, land reform beneficiaries, civil society organisations and financiers.

Hard bargaining and compromises unclutter the policy agenda. Incentives are negotiated to get private landowners, financiers, NGOs, local communities, universities, input suppliers and retailers to support land and agrarian reform. Small-scale farmers are supported by public and private organisations. Ceilings on farm sizes are retracted as the Subdivision of Agricultural Land Act is repealed. Unused freehold land is taxed and uncompetitive behaviour controlled. Standard settlement offers (part cash and part housing) are negotiated for claimants seeking cash settlements. Land acquisition is accelerated by providing just and equitable compensation without undermining agricultural productivity.

New relationships start to bear fruit, but operating conditions remain difficult. District land reform committees start to identify land for redistribution. They monitor compliance with the AgriBEE Charter and farmworker evictions. Five thousand black small-scale farmers enter formal supply chains and 150 000 continue to supply informal markets. Unreliable rainfall places dryland agriculture under pressure and maize production declines. The demand for commodities rises, agricultural commodity prices increase and food prices rise. Exporters benefit, but the weak rand increases the price of imports and accelerates the drive to mechanisation and increased concentration. The courts support the right of communities to select the tenure options that suit them, but banks decline to accept communal rights as collateral for loans.

Where does it lead by 2030?

Land reform has become a shared responsibility among a wide range of actors supported by an enabling state committed to pro-poor land and agrarian reform.

On the land there is growing plurality in the South African countryside. There is a greater diversity of land holding and land use. Land rights are clearer and partnerships are developing to include small landholders, commercial farmers and active citizens. Different scales of agricultural production are evident around the cities and in rural areas. Forty per cent of agricultural land outside the former homelands is black-owned.

As a country South Africa is benefitting from improved growth and greater cooperation as it faces continuing challenges. The growth rate has moved up to 3.5% and rising optimism amongst South Africans is visible in their renewed engagement with each other. There is a greater sense that opportunities and challenges are shared and can be addressed. Food security remains fragile at both national and household levels. The stage is set to tackle the security of tenure for farmworkers and backyard shack dwellers, the proliferation of informal settlements, and the development of communal land.

Scenario Team

The scenarios building process on the future of land reform in South Africa was convened and supported by the Vumelana Advisory Fund, which contracted Reos Partners to manage the process.

The scenarios team of 40 people was made up of leading actors involved in land reform. They have a range of backgrounds and perspectives (sectoral, ideological, professional, geographical). The team included senior public officials, policy makers and administrators, business leaders, traditional leaders, communal property institution (CPI) leaders, activists, leading academics, church leaders, leaders of non-profit and community-based organisations, and a range of specialists working on land reform. The team’s discussions took into account the views of over 100 people about land reform.

The scenarios team*

* Alphabetically according to organisation

  • African Farmers' Association of South Africa: Aggrey Mahanjana, Secretary-General
  • AgriBiz: Dr John Purchase, Chief Executive Officer
  • Agri SA: Annelize Crosby, Legal and Policy Advisor
  • Andisa Agri: Duncan Pringle, Managing Director
  • Bela Bela Communal Property Association: Barrington Mabuela, Chairperson
  • Centre for Rural Legal Studies: Sharron Marco-Thyse, Director
  • Commission on Restitution of Land Rights: Nomfundo Gobodo, Chief Land Claims Commissioner
  • Commission on Restitution of Land Rights: Thami Mdontswa, Deputy Chief Land Claims Commissioner
  • DB Consulting: Geoffrey de Beer, Transaction Advisor
  • Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation: Dr Tsakani Ngomane, Outcome 7 Facilitator: Rural Development and Land Reform
  • Department of Rural Development and Land Reform: Hilton Toolo, Chief Director: Policy Research and Development
  • Ethiopian Episcopal Church: Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Diocese of Maropeng
  • Independent: Golden Mahove, Consultant
  • Independent: Paul Zille, Consultant
  • Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies: Prof. Ben Cousins, NRF Research Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies and Senior Professor
  • Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies: Assoc. Prof. Ruth Hall, Associate Professor
  • Khonjwayo Traditional Council: iNkosi Mpumalanga Gwadiso, Chairperson
  • Land Access Movement of South Africa: Constance Mogale, Member of the Advisory Committee
  • Land Access Movement of South Africa: Emily Tjale, Acting Director
  • Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa: Maine Mofokeng, Senior Specialist: Agriculture Economics
  • Legal Resources Centre: Shirhami Shirinda, Legal Researcher
  • Legal Resources Centre: Henk Smith, Attorney
  • Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders: His Majesty Hosi Aarone Mahumani, Hosi (Royal Leader)
  • Moletele Communal Property Association: Hezekiel Nkosi, Chairperson
  • Mondi: Maurice Makhathini, Head of Land
  • National Agricultural Marketing Council: Tshililo Ramabulana, Chief Executive Officer
  • National Treasury: Dr Duncan Pieterse, Director: Microeconomic Policy
  • Public Investment Corporation: Nico van Aardt, Fund Principal
  • Senwes: Gideon Ralepeli, Contracts Manager
  • Sihlanganisa Inclusion (Pty) Ltd: James Rycroft, Director
  • South African Sugar Association: Anwhar Madhanpall, General Manager: Land Reform and Rural Development
  • RCL Foods Limited: Dr Dave Thomson, Manager: Land Reform – Sugar
  • Tshintsha Amakhaya: Dr Monique Salomon, National Coordinator
  • Vumelana Advisory Fund: Vuyo Masisi, Communications and Stakeholder Relations Manager
  • Vumelana Advisory Fund: Mazwi Mkhulisi, Programmes Manager
  • Vumelana Advisory Fund: Brian Whittaker, Executive Director
  • Webber Wentzel Attorneys: Moray Hathorn, Partner
  • Women on Farms: Roseline Engelbrecht, Women's Cooperatives Programme Coordinator
  • Women on Farms: Carmen Louw, Land and Housing Programme Coordinator
  • ZZ2: BJ van Zyl, Director


The contribution of all those who made the scenarios possible is gratefully acknowledged:

  • The scenarios team who built the scenarios over a period of 12 months between March 2015 and March 2016.
  • Reos Partners who facilitated the scenario building process, in particular Colleen Magner, Managing Director of Reos Partners Southern Africa, Adam Kahane, Director of Reos Partners North America, and the South African Reos team consisting of Dinesh Budhram, Lorna Ely, Rebecca Freeth, Maikel Lieuw-Kie-Song and Bangani Ngeleza.
  • The reference group who operated as a sounding board for the facilitators and convenors: Prof. Ben Cousins, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Shirhami Shiranda and Paul Zille.
  • The editorial committee who guided the editing of the scenarios: Dinesh Budhram, Prof. Ben Cousins, Dr Rick de Satgé, Helene Perold, Colleen Magner, Vuyo Masisi and Brian Whittaker.
  • Consultants and advisors: Over 100 people were consulted in preparation for and during the scenario building process. Some gave detailed interviews, others participated in meetings or commented on the scenarios or parts of them.
  • Vumelana project managers: Lisa Herbst and Vuyo Masisi.


How to use the scenarios

The scenarios do not represent the views of any individual or organisation. Rather they are scenarios that the team agreed are plausible and could unfold. They contain unresolved dilemmas that invite deeper debate and discussion. Those who use them might ask:

  • What are the challenges that this scenario poses?
  • If this scenario occurred, what would it mean for us? What would we do?
  • Given uncertain possible futures, where is the common ground and what are the differences?
  • Who can we work with to encourage the future we want?


Please Email: to share your thoughts about the scenarios and the future of land reform in South Africa.

Vumelana Advisory Fund
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PO Box 125, Woodlands, 2080, Johannesburg, South Africa
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