While access to land is not explicitly recognised as a socio-economic right in international human rights instruments, section 25 of the South African Constitution places a duty on the State to promote equitable access to land. The article analyses the problem of landlessness arising from a legacy of colonial conquest in both South Africa and Zimbabwe as well as the measures adopted by both governments in addressing it.
Neither country, it is argued, has made sufficient progress towards providing the landless with land. In South Africa the state has not made use of its powers to expropriate land, although a legal framework exists to do so. In Zimbabwe, while most farms have been expropriated, this took place in a process marked by violence and abuse that enriched a political elite and left many peasants remaining without land. Zimbabwe, it is argued, needs to return to the rule of law and allocate land primarily on the basis of need. For this, however, the assistance of the international community will be vital.