The Pre-history of South African ‘Neo-Liberalism’: The Rise and Fall of Co-operative Farming on the Highveld

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 41, p.1239–1254 (2015)



A striking insight of analyses of neoliberalism has been the extent of elite continuity throughout. But there have also been significant changes. While, in the agricultural sector, much of the literature on agricultural co-operatives has highlighted their continued market dominance, this article focuses on the case of an unsuccessfully transformed tobacco co-operative in the small South African town of Mokopane. While state deregulation of the agricultural sector did not mean that all forms of associational support for farmers were lost, farmers there faced a more precarious position. A general decline in farming has resulted in significant changes in the nature of land utilisation. Mining and game farming have become the district’s economic mainstay. This article also highlights shifts away from communal, inter-personal forms of organisation within co-operatives well before the official coming of the neo-liberal epoch. None the less, the scope of decision-making by co-operative management was limited by the oversight of the Ministry of Agriculture, which functioned as a safety net of sorts, but also considered that the interests of ordinary farmers were best upheld by co-operatives remaining non-profit entities.

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