More than 180 papers were presented at the Land Divided conference, that opened at UCT last week, providing an opportunity for scores of researchers and government and civil society representatives to explore the legacy of the segregationist and far-reaching Land Act of 1913. The four-day conference marks the Land Act's centenary year and is being hosted by three of the province's four higher education institutions: UCT, and the Universities of Stellenbosch and the Western Cape, a collaboration deputy vice-chancellor professor Thandabantu Nhlapo said had "raised the flag" for academia and debate. Nhlapo officially welcomed delegates to the conference.
The Land Act of 1913 was the first major piece of legislation to dispossess most black South Africans of their land and livelihoods. In its wake came a long history of forced removals and evictions of Africans from their ancestral lands. It also took away Africans' right to own land. The fallout reverberates across South African society today, through economic disempowerment and the disintegration of community and social structures.
The conference will explore the intersections between these themes, and the need for fresh analyses and new ways of thinking. The first plenary, on 24 March, was addressed by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti; former UCT vice-chancellor and politician Dr Mamphela Ramphele; deputy vice-chancellor Professor Crain Soudien; and other high-profile speakers. Ramphele called for a more creative approach to the land issue, noting with concern that the country was losing farmers to neighbouring states, where they felt "safer and more appreciated". South Africans make up 50% of commercial farmers in Zimbabwe, and there are 800 South African commercial farmers in Mozambique.
"Fifteen years ago there were 100,000 commercial farmers in South Africa. Now there are 36,000 commercial farmers, who are required to feed the nation." She called for a plan to balance the needs of the small and commercial farming sectors in this country. UCT presenters include Professors Maano Ramutsindela and Prof Timm Hoffman, who - with Professor Phil Woodhouse of the University of Manchester - will consider how a human rights perspective and the need for redress can be incorporated alongside the urgent need to address the global environmental challenges confronting the country.
In addition, the largest ever photographic exhibition on the South African land issue opened on 26 March at the Iziko SA National Gallery, and runs until July 2013. The curators - David Goldblatt, Bongi Dhlomo, Pam Warne and Paul Weinberg, a senior curator at UCT Libraries - have developed a narrative about land that includes a thorough exploration of archival photographs and the work of committed photographers who have engaged with this issue for over a century.
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