Land reform and belonging in South Africa: a place-making perspective
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Political debate around South African land reform peaks in the run up to the national elections.2019 was no exception. Escalating urban 'land grabs' in 2017 had already increased emotion, tension and political urgency on the issue. However, the debate again carried surprisingly little weight at the polls. It was overshadowed by the burning issues of jobs, housing, crime, corruption and service delivery. We offer some insights into the racial and cultural topography of the attachment to land in South Africa, and how historical processes of settlement affect the nature of land hunger and demand in South Africa today through a place-making lens. The article is based on our own experiences, research and observations in rural and urban and urban areas, along with two recent studies of urban and rural land hunger we jointly undertook in 2017 and 2018. In retrospect it seems that, despite the perversely unequal nature of the South African spatial economy, there is an uncanny stability to local settlement patterns. Despite urbanisation, the homelands remain favoured spaces for African homemaking, while white South Africans cling to the coastline as a preferred place of investment. The debate about the productive use of land for development, we argue, should not be abstracted from an appreciation of the complex way in which land is inhabited, used and valued.