some recent approaches to land reform and decolonisation in southern africa


The Zimbabwean phenomenon briefly touched upon in the post “Second Thoughts on Land Seizures in Southern Africa” is certainly a complex issue. Two important recent studies on the topic have surfaced in recent months.

Ben Cousins and Ian Scoones, “Contested Paradigms of ‘Viability’ in Redistributive Land Reform: Perspectives from Southern Africa”, Journal of Peasant Studies, Volume 37, Issue 1 January 2010 , pages 31 – 66:


‘Viability’ is a key term in debates about land redistribution in southern African and beyond. It is often used to connote ‘successful’ and ‘sustainable’- but what is meant by viability in relation to land reform, and how have particular conceptions of viability informed state policies and planning approaches over time? How have such notions influenced the contested politics of land and agriculture? In southern Africa policy debates have tended to focus narrowly on farm productivity and economic returns, and an implicit normative model is the large-scale commercial farm. Through a review of land reform experiences in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, this paper critically interrogates this influential but under-examined notion. It examines contrasting framings of viability derived from neo-classical economics, new institutional economics, livelihoods approaches (both developmentalist and welfarist), radical political economy and Marxism, and their influence in southern Africa. Through a discussion of alternative framings of viability, the paper aims to help shift policy debates away from a narrow, technocratic economism, a perspective often backed by powerful interests, towards a more plural view, one more compatible with small-scale, farming-based livelihoods.

J. L. Fisher, Pioneers, Settlers, Aliens, Exiles: The Decolonisation of White Identity in Zimbabwe (ANU E-Press, 2010).

In lieu of an abstract, I will give a brief outline of this monograph: Fisher sets out to understand the process of decolonisation in Zimbabwe, and uncovers evidence of a widening conflict between white and black Zimbabweans. She explains some of the policies applied by the new government in postcolonial Zimbabwe, and focuses on their impact on the white cultural experience. The idea that a shared Zimbabwe would emerge in the 1990s turned out to be little more than a dream: ‘coloniser’ and ‘colonised’ were resilient constructions that did not dissipate at the moment of settler decolonisation; on the contrary, by the invocation of past memory and the fact of ongoing public disharmony, they continue to inform and influence the ways that each component operates and sees each other in the new Zimbabwe.

Fisher’s thesis is strongly grounded in theoretical and comparative studies relating to colonial and postcolonial phenomenon. It is an important work which I strongly recommend, and I congratulate her for choosing to publish it as a free e-book.

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