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Agrarian Repair: Agriculture, race and accumulation in contemporary SA


Presenter: Dr Melanie Sommerville
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, Canada

This seminar examines recent agricultural investment projects in South Africa through the lens of ‘agrarian repair’. ‘Agrarian repair’ proponents present their projects as combining two fixes. First, they seek to repair processes of capital accumulation, always uncertain but freshly destabilized by the financial crisis. Second, they seek to repair histories of social injustice, here resulting from blacks’ supposed historical ‘exclusion’ from agriculture under colonialism and apartheid. I trace the historical origins of these projects, situating them in two concurrent transitions: one in the organization of the agrarian economy, the other in the orientation of the nation-state towards a liberal democratic, ‘reconciliatory’ dispensation. Turning then to the logics and modalities of a particular set of projects in South Africa’s commercial fruit sector, I show how neither does agriculture prove to be the stable financial provider investors expect, nor do the projects deliver their anticipated social results. Benefits for black communities are uneven at best, while the projects actively exploit both South Africa’s land reform programs and broader empowerment efforts to generate new advantages for wealthy investors. Examining how ‘transformation’ thus becomes redirected to revitalizing the status quo, I reflect on what the projects can tell us about how colonial and racialised histories and reparative movements are mobilized and monetized in contemporary agricultural projects. I close by considering how capitalism incorporates its critiques – here about its colonial and racial past – as new sites of accumulation.

Date: Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Time: 13h00-14h00
Venue: PLAAS Boardroom, 2nd Floor Main Hall, University of the Western Cape

[Update] Click here to read “Agrarian repair : agriculture, race and accumulation in contemporary Canada and South Africa” by Melanie Sommerville. 

[Download] See the slides from this seminar here.