Theses Doctoral

Democracy Dispossessed: Land, Law and the Politics of Redistribution in South Africa

Alexander, Amanda Suzanne

This dissertation concerns the history of land politics in South Africa and, equally, land as a vehicle for understanding the transition from apartheid to the post-apartheid order. In 2004, after a decade in power, the ANC government’s failure to carry out widespread land reform began to test the country’s democratic possibilities. In the lead up to that year’s national election, social movements urged landless people to boycott the polls and occupy land instead as part of a “No Land! No Vote!” campaign. With this clash as its entry point for analysis, this dissertation examines historical factors that have shaped South Africa’s neoliberal democracy and prospects for redistribution. It offers insights into some of the most significant questions facing the country: What is the historical relationship between land dispossession, citizenship, and politics in South Africa? And why, well into the Mbeki years, was the country unable, or unwilling, to reckon with it?
Broad in scope, this dissertation examines a number of institutions that shaped the politics of land, economic development, and citizenship in South Africa over the last century. It is particularly focused on period of the 1940s-2004, encompassing the apartheid era and the first ten years of democracy. I begin by recasting the history of apartheid pass laws in the mid-twentieth century, widening the scope beyond their role in containing labor mobility and controlling access to cities. I show how vagrancy laws were one piece of a continuum that stretched through jails and prisons to rural plantations, supplying labor to farms and subsidizing agricultural development. Later chapters examine how, beginning in the 1970s, the World Bank and other international institutions helped shape the contours of land and housing policies and the relationship between states and citizens. My research also shows how, during the apartheid transition and through the Mandela and Mbeki administrations, private prisons and harsh criminal justice reforms became integral parts of neoliberal economic development. This dissertation weaves together the history that has shaped South Africa’s ‘dispossessed democracy’ and concludes with a discussion of the implications for social movements and political change.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Mann, Gregory
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 25, 2015