Schmidtsdrift: The poverty of Restitution?

Schmidtsdrift is a large restitution case in the Northern Cape which has diamonds, irrigation rights on the Vaal and other resources. The paper analyses how a combination of oversimplified notions of ‘the community’, complex conflicts of interest and values, weak institutions, and the failure to provide appropriate social, institutional, economic and ecological support services has come at a high cost to State while failing to unlock key assets for the benefit of the poor.

At the same time the case illustrates the fractured and internally contested workings of the ‘developmental state’ which has failed to ensure the access of the poor to key water, grazing and mineral assets. The case study examines the Restitution programme frequently homogenises historical loss and has been unable to theorise or practically engage with the ‘community’ to which land is restored.

The history of Schmidtsdrift highlights the complexities associated with trying to reconstitute a large ‘community’ dispossessed in 1968 and scattered across several locations hundreds of km apart. The way in which the claim was settled illuminates the consequences of a failure to engage with relative power and differentiation amongst the claimants and manage competing agendas within the State. It also highlights key questions for policy makers and development practitioners.

The paper asks whether ‘communities’ be restored and reconstructed? It argues that communities are in fact complex networks of competing interests and that Restitution and land reform more broadly require us to address social and economic differentiation and move beyond simple narratives of dispossession which portray uniformity of loss and impoverishment.

Schmidtsdrift highlights how forty years after dispossession claimant communities are characterised by extreme differentiation of relative wealth and power. The history of conflict at Schmidtsdrift also asks how we should understand and engage with the psychosocial legacies of dispossession. This can manifests itself in virulent mistrust, alternating spikes of hope and lows of despair, resentment and blame coupled with ongoing dependence on outsiders.

The paper examines the persistent failure of the Sate to provide meaningful support to new institutions established in terms of post apartheid land laws. It asks how do we best create and support new institutions noting that the imposition and structuring of the land holding entity a Communal Property Association laid the foundation for subsequent crippling disputes and facilitated elite capture of resources. It asks how do we practically allocate and manage rights and responsibilities of those people restored to the land? It highlights the persistent silence on substantive rights and the associated responsibilities of members. It argues that rights have to be negotiated in ways which does not ignore existing differentiation amongst the members.

The paper argues that if land reform is to make an impact on poverty and inequality we need to:

  • Abandon the rhetoric of community
  • Engage theoretically and practically with differentiation and the psychosocial legacies of dispossession
  • Facilitate/enforce growth paths which enable those who have accumulated within restitution communities to access their own land and ensure that restored assets remain available for the poor
  • Replace oversimplified notions of the developmental state with IGR frameworks which practically require and reward collaboration
  • Abandon the temptation of the quick win which is substituting for coherent long term strategy
  • Invest in growing the new professionals who must provide the long term social, institutional, economic, and ecological support systems or go home
  • Provide the support systems
  • Rethink current relationship between research, policy and practice – encourage applied/action research
  • Go beyond the insularity of disciplines – addressing poverty and inequality is a transdisciplinary endeavour.

As Claudia Serrano a former Chilean Minister of Labour and Social Affairs put it to the conference, development which reduces poverty and inequality requires “an intentional and persistent combination of actions.” The case of Schmidtsdrift highlights the haphazard and poorly co-ordinated support for Restitution claimants which lacks both the intentionality and the persistence to enable the poor to make use of key assets once land has been restored.

Presenting from experience
Presenting from experience
Posted: 9/30/2010 (1:49:35 PM)

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