In July 2001, The Landless People's Movement (LPM) was formed by leaders of various landless people of South Africa in response to evictions of farm workers and labour tenants from commercial farms. Formed as an umbrella body, the LPM aimed to organise campaigns for rural and urban landless people on a national scale.[1]

The movement’s demands were for land redistribution, secure tenure, and an end to evictions and a process for transferring ownership to those living and working on it. [2]


The LPM was originally a project of the National Land Committee (NLC), a professional NGO, and its affiliated NGOs. They had been attempting to start a grassroots movement around land issues which initially took the form of the Rural Development Initiative in 1998 – a loose coalition of NGOs and community-based organisations. The Rural Development Initiative was broadly supportive of the national government’s policies. The movement collapsed when its funding dried up soon after they formed. [3]

However, in 2001, the occurrence of the World Conference Against Racism allowed the National Land Committee to raise funds for a Landless People’s Assembly. This Assembly brought together volunteers from organisations that were involved primarily in assisting landless people to interact with the government such as filling in land claims, building farm workers or residents forums and, on the other hand, activists from movements involved in resisting evictions and involved in land invasions. Out of this Landless People’s Assembly, the Landless People’s Movement was formed; although it was still very dependent on external funding and support from the National Land Committee. [4]

In 2002, the World Summit for Sustainable Development took place in Johannesburg and, once again, this allowed the NLC to raise funds for the second National Land Assembly which brought together 5000 delegates from around the country - called the “Week of the Landless”.[5][6]

Divisions started forming within the LPM when the Social Movement Indaba (SMI) – a coalition of left-wing social movements – organised a 25 000 strong march against the WSSD’s neoliberal ideology.[7]

Many within the LPM decided to join the SMI march, forming one of the biggest contingents of the march.[8]

They argued that the government had the ability to carry out land restitution but had decided on different economic policies and that therefore the LPM should develop an antagonistic relationship to government. However, many also decided not to attend the march and to go home early. They argued that the government would like to roll out land restitution but required improved bureaucratic procedures and, therefore, the LPM should remain in a working relationship with government characterised as critical engagement. [9]

These divisions continued to plague the LPM, as the national leadership of the LPM and the NLC favoured the more antagonistic approach whereas most of the other NGOs, the NLC Board and sections of the LPM favoured the critical engagement approach. This lead to numerous contestations internal to the NGOs and organisations that made up the LPM. Generally, this leads to the NGO’s –including, eventually, the NLC - smothering the radical elements within the LPM by not providing funds to their campaigns and by expelling members of the NGOs which supported the LPM.[10][11]

In 2004, the LPM organised a boycott of the National Elections which would “deliver a resounding warning to political leaders over the country's land crisis” according to LPM spokesperson Mangaliso Kubheka. [12]

Kubheka further explained that “We have pleaded with the ruling party and with other political parties to take seriously our demand for land reform as a fundamental requirement of post-apartheid transformation” and that the decision to boycott the election came from being “sick and tired of being used as pawns by political elites who only 'care' about us at election time, then expect us to suffer our poverty and dispossession in silence for the next five years.” [13]

The police heavily repressed protests outside the voting stations in Protea Glen, Soweto, Johannesburg resulting in the arrest of over 60 activists and the torture of four LPM activists including LPM Gauteng chair, Maureen Mnisi.[14]

This resulted in a split with the NLC who were uncomfortable with the antagonistic approach to government. [15]

National Land Summit

“About 1,000 members of the Landless Peoples Movement of South Africa march on to the National Land Summit in Johannesburg on July 27, 2005. (ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)” Image source

In 2005, the National Government agreed to a long-standing demand by the LPM for a National Land Summit to occur. From outside government, planning for this summit took place mostly with NLC affiliated organisations and the SACP organised under the banner of the Alliance for Land and Agrarian Movements. The LPM chose not to join the alliance but to work with them on the planning for this summit. It was agreed to not allow World Bank officials to speak at the summit on the basis that they had suggested the failed ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ model. LMP activists in the summit used toyi-toyi and singing to disrupt all World Bank speeches. However, the Alliance for Land and Agrarian Movements and the Summit organizers used this moment to demonise the LPM, despite the Alliances earlier agreement with this principle.[16]

Activities post 2005

Activities post 2005 Although it had a national committee and had organised some national level initiatives, as of 2005 the LPM only had local structures in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. [17]

In KwaZulu-Natal, one of the main activities of the LPM were campaigns to force farmers to allow tenants to bury a deceased member of their family on the land that they were occupying as labour tenants. This is a right recognised in law but not often in practice and the campaigns against the farmers around this often brought out hundreds of supporters. A successful campaign and burial also gave the occupiers more rights to the land and was seen as a victory and a source of legitimacy for the movement. [18]

The LPM in KwaZulu-Natal were also involved in mediation between tenants and farmers, acting as a sort of advice desk and representative of the tenant. They would explain the legal rights of the tenant and negotiate for the tenant on issues such as “alternative to eviction, the return of the cattle impounded, and permission to receive visitors or access to roads and even to water.” [19]

In 2008, the Gauteng branch of the LPM won a court case against the Johannesburg City Council forcing the city to provide evidence of its plans for improving the Protea South shack settlement.[20]

They won a second court case against the city a year later as a part of protests against the eviction of residents of Protea South to Doornkop.[21]

The court judge orders the city to work with LPM and interdicts them from evicting LPM members until the city reports on its efforts to provide alternative housing.[22]

The Gauteng branch of the LPM also organised a 3000 member strong march in eTwatwa calling for an end to corruption and for more participatory planning of developments. [23]

This was organised despite an increase in attacks on LPM members by ANC members and the police all over the Gauteng region.[24]

In 2011, a leadership battle arose in the Gauteng branch of the LPM where the chairperson for the previous 10 years was accused of corruption and furthering her own career. The divisions around this led to the movement losing momentum and the trust of local residents. [25]

The National Landless People’s Movement is now largely defunct despite ongoing organizing efforts in some localized cases in Gauteng and Limpopo.


[1] (Greenberg, 2004, p. 1)

[2](Greenberg, 2004, p. 2)

[3](Greenberg, 2004, p. 17)

[4](Greenberg, 2004, p. 17)

[5](Greenberg, 2004, p. 18)

[6](Mngxitama, 2006, p. 61)

[7](Greenberg, 2004, p. 18)

[8](Mngxitama, 2006, p. 61)

[9](Greenberg, 2004, pp. 18-19)

[10](Greenberg, 2004, pp. 19-20)

[11](Mngxitama, 2006, p. 61)

[12] (Sapa Staff Reporter, 2004)

[13](Sapa Staff Reporter, 2004)

[14]Amnesty International, 2005) and (Freedom of Expression Institute, 2005)

[15](Rosa, 2014, p. 8)

[16](Mngxitama, 2006, p. 40)

[17](Rosa, 2014, p. 6)

[18](Rosa, 2014, p. 11)

[19](Rosa, 2014, p. 11)

[20](LPM, 2008)

[21](LPM, 2009)

[22](LPM, 2009)

[23](Sacks, 2010, p. 6)

[24](Sacks, 2010) and (LPM, 2010)

[25](LPM, 2011)


Amnesty International, 2005. 2005 Annual Report for South Africa. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10/06/2018].

  • Freedom of Expression Institute, 2005. FXI welcomes opening of trial in Landless Peoples' Movement torture case. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 06 2018].
  • Greenberg, S., 2004. The Landless People’s Movement and the Failure of Post-apartheid Land Reform. Durban, UKZN, Centre for Civil Society.2008.
  • LPM Wins Breakthrough Court Order in Jo’burg. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10/06/2018]. LPM, 2009. Mnisi v City of Johannesburg – Case No 17819 08 (Judgment) 31 07 09. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10/06/2018].
  • ,LPM, 2009. Winning Our Land Back – the Landless People’s Movement Wins a Major Court Victory. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10/06/2018].
  • LPM, 2010. Police kill Landless People's Movement militant in Johannesburg. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 10/06/2018]. LPM, 2011. Problems and challenges facing the new LPM Protea South structure. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10/06/2018].
  • Mngxitama, A., 2006. The Taming of Land Resistance. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 41(1), pp. 39-69. Rosa, M. C., 2014.
  • The Landless People's Movement: The Movement that never was not but was. Cape Town, Centre for African Studies, UCT. Sacks, J., 2010. Two deaths, dozens of injuries and counting.... [Online] Available at: Gauteng Landless People's Movement [Accessed 10 06 2018].
  • Sapa Staff Reporter, 2004. Don't vote, say landless people. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10/06/2018].

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