The land issue in South Africa: Complexity versus policy

september, 2018

18sep8:00 pm11:45 pmThe land issue in South Africa: Complexity versus policy8:00 pm - 11:45 pm The Orbit, 81 De Korte Street, Braamfontein, 2001 Johannesburg, Gauteng Event Organized By: Science and Cocktails Johannesburg


Event Details

Why is the land issue in South Africa so complicated? Is it possible to institute land policies that reflect this complexity, but are also simple enough to be implementable? What are the underlying principles that should guide us in attempting to solve the puzzle that is the Land Question?

If land issues are inherently multi-faceted and complex, then land policies must be adequate to such complexity; but implementable policies also require clarity and relative simplicity. How can complexity and clarity be reconciled? Politics tends to reduce social complexity to slogans and election promises, and land is particularly susceptible to an emotive politics of identity and belonging. Must complexity be sacrificed within the contested politics of land?

In tonight’s edition of Science & Cocktails Johannesburg, Ben Cousins from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies will focus on the multi-dimensionality of land and property in contemporary South Africa. He will discuss six key aspects in particular: production and livelihood systems, ecology, property, power, institutions and identity. These inter-penetrate and combine with each other in a myriad of ways, creating a seemingly unmanageable degree of complexity – and generating profound challenges for policy makers.

Policies must be clear and unambiguous, and implementable by bureaucrats following set procedures. In relation to all six aspects, there are common conceptual binaries (rural vs urban, commercial vs subsistence, private vs communal, sustainable vs unsustainable, modern vs traditional, etc) that are a poor guide to designing policy. The heightened politics of land, often a symbol for other issues (inequality, a history of brutal oppression, the lack of reparation, the need for housing and services, etc), also tends to generate a simplistic menu of ‘either/or’ options, such as the need to amend the constitution or not.

But simplifications, whether of policy or politics, often incur heavy costs: project failure, collapsing morale, growing dissatisfaction and the declining legitimacy of the state and other institutions. Thus, as Ben Cousins will argue, there is no alternative to understanding complexity and embodying it in laws, policies, institutions and social practices. These efforts must be guided by clear underlying principles, including the core values of democracy.

Afterwards, smoky crafted cocktails and a live performance by Motswedi will set the stage for further discussion of the interplay between policy and politics.

Entrance to the event costs R20. Doors open at 18:30, no admittance after 20:00. No registration is necessary but guests are strongly encouraged to arrive early. Dinner is served from 18:00. Guests wishing to have dinner before the event should book in advance directly with The Orbit and arrive by 18:30. (Last orders for dinner at 19:15 to make it to the event).

More information on our website:
Directions to the venue:

Contact – Directions

Image credits: Joel Penner/flickr


(Tuesday) 8:00 pm - 11:45 pm


The Orbit

81 De Korte Street, Braamfontein, 2001 Johannesburg, Gauteng


Science and Cocktails

Average Rating

5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *