Investigating socio-spatial trajectories of class formation: Accumulation from below and above on 'New Qwa Qwa farms' from the mid-1980s to 2016
Ngubane, Mnqobi Mthandeni
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This thesis investigates socio-spatial trajectories of class formation and processes of accumulation from below and above on redistributed farmland, the ‘New Qwaqwa Farms’ in the Eastern Free State province of South Africa, from the mid-1980s to 2016. Class formation trajectories of the studied land beneficiaries are traced across localised historical geographies and political contexts, from apartheid to the current democratic dispensation, that is, from the land beneficiaries’ recent ancestral history as labour tenants on white-owned farmland, and subsequent systematic expulsions from farmland, to their Bantustan labour reserve resuscitations as mainly nonagricultural petty commodity producers, and later targeting for land reform, as one measure of redistribution. The study adopted a mixed-methods survey, combining indepth qualitative and quantitative data, informed by critical realism and historical materialism within Marxist agrarian political economy. This methodology was retrospective, circumspective and prospective in unravelling agricultural households’ livelihood trajectories over time and space. The state’s targeting of classes of labour and fragments of the middle class as beneficiaries of land reform in the area of study has materialised into heterogeneous land reform outcomes centred on differentiated farming systems, farming scales, and farm labour requirements. Research findings suggest class differentiation of a sample of 62 cases of family farms into agricultural households engaged in social reproduction (50%), simple reproduction (26%), and accumulation (24%). The first two categories, constituting 76% of the sample, are essentially small-scale capitalist enterprises engaged in constrained and successful reproduction of capital – some of these households can be theorised as an impoverished landed property for their reliance on farm-rental income, combined with marginal farming, and precarious off-farm work for social reproduction. These are small-scale capitalist enterprises on the basis of the capital-wage relation. Their farm production rest upon small livestock herd reproduction and generalised renting out of arable and grazing land. A minority of these small-scale capitalist farms use solely family labour and can thus be defined as petty commodity producers on the basis of their embodiment of the capital-wage relation in one soul or family. The third category constitutes agricultural households on upward trajectories of capital accumulation from below and above, through expanded reproduction of mixed-farming systems, expressed in intensive farming of small but capitalised farms, as well as extensive farming expressed in livestock expansion/accumulation and renting in of additional grazing land, plus capital intensive crop expansion on non-irrigated land and renting in of additional arable land by some of the top 24% of the sample. These research findings illuminate heterogeneous land reform outcomes centred on improved access to land for widening the base of social reproduction for classes of labour, and attendant simple reproduction of small-scale capitalist farms. This heterogeneity also includes the function of land reform for accumulation of capital for the black middle class who can muster off-farm capital resources into expanded farm reproduction on their own and without accumulation from above, demonstrated by some accumulators in the area of study. Accumulation from above is taking place on some of the studied land reform farms, often through intersections with economic histories of accumulation from below, exposing the contradictions of capitalism and attendant compulsions of accumulators to accumulate capital by any means necessary. The downside of accumulation from above, however, through capture of public agricultural subsidy in the area of study, is that the collective 76% of the sample at the lower ends of social differentiation and those accumulators excluded from extraeconomic accumulation, are barred from accessing state subsidy that benefit a few politically-connected farmers. Whether class alliances across those excluded from accessing state subsidy will materialise into overt political action in demanding a share of public goods from the local ruling elite remains to be seen. These research findings contribute to a heterogeneous understanding of land reform which is sensitive to differentiated livelihood outcomes. Prospectively, this suggests much-needed government policy tailored to different classes of farmers in post land reform localities.