Accepted paper:

Expanding commodity frontiers and the emergence of informal land markets in Venda, South Africa


Malin Olofsson (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

'Informal' land markets are emerging in rural areas governed by customary tenure, driven by expanding commodity frontiers. This is providing de facto tenure security for a minority of well-positioned rural residents while opening up the opportunity for rent appropriation by traditional leaders.

Paper long abstract:

Contemporary discourses on customary land tenure in Africa, and South Africa in particular, tend to emphasise the socially embedded and flexible nature of customary land rights, recognising these as inherently more inclusive and 'pro-poor' than individual titling. Despite this, tenure insecurity remains high for rural residents in South Africa former homelands. Based on qualitative research in Venda, this paper aims to unravel how the expansion and commercialisation of orchards is reconfiguring land access arrangement, tenure security and customary land governance as a consequence. Findings show how land access arrangements for orchards have changed since orchards were first established during the apartheid era until the present and how these changes are situated in a context of dynamic and evolving customary land tenure systems. In a context of expanding commodity frontiers, rural land markets have emerged, fundamentally altering land relations in communal areas. This has presented new opportunities for rent appropriation by nondemocratic traditional authorities and emergent processes of land accumulation by a minority of small-scale capitalist farmers. The paper concludes that land rights in relation to orchards have become increasingly individual and exclusive, with access and use rights linked primarily to financial transactions. The paper argues that the increasing commoditization of land within communal areas and its specific character needs to be recognised if a more inclusive and socially just system of customary land governance is to be achieved.

panel Econ12
The crisis of land in South Africa