Young ethnographers explore land needs

To deepen insights into the nature and extent of land hunger in rural South Africa, the Economic Performance and Development research unit created a programme where young emerging scholars and ethnographers from universities across South Africa were funded on a competitive basis to join HSRC’s research teams in district municipalities. The post-graduate students, recruited through the academic networks of Anthropology Southern Africa, were asked to use their own initiative and apply ethnographic techniques, including in-depth interviews, life histories, observation and case studies to shed new light on land needs and hunger. A day of training took place prior to fieldwork, which was conducted during July and August 2017.
On the 4th and 5th September the EPD held a workshop in Cape Town where the ethnographers presented their in-depth case studies, interviews and photographs of the lives and experiences of small and struggling farmers across rural South Africa. The results were fascinating and revealed the serious deficiency in the current land reform programme in enabling small operators, former farm workers and dispossessed rural families from entering a rural opportunity structure for upliftment and development on the land.
Through the presentation of the case studies several important general themes emerged which the students agreed to incorporate more fully in their expanded case studies. The EPD hopes to make at least of 20 of the best and most insightful case studies available in a report, which will be shared with the head of Research Directorate of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
Besides building the academic and analytical capacity of the 15 participants in the project, the EPD has arranged for some of the case studies to be converted into feature articles which will be placed in the local and national media to draw attention to the complexity of local land needs and challenges in rural areas. It was felt that life experiences and the everyday struggles of rural communities are seldom covered in the urban centred media that the emerging scholars should work with editors in the mainstream media to ensure that some of the stories are heard.
The opportunities offered to the Masters and PhD students through participation through this initiative demonstrated that the HSRC could make more effective use of the reservoir of research talent located within universities and higher education institutions by engaging in creative, short-term projects with specific disciplinary networks. In this case, we felt that an anthropological and qualitative perspective was needed to deepen the understanding of rural land needs, especially in view of the intensive and loaded political debate emerging on the land issue.
The project was initiated and implemented by Leslie Bank, Tim Hart and Anele Abraham in the EPD.

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