Land ownership remains an important and contested issue in contemporary South African politics. Drawing inspiration from Hernando de Soto’s work, especially his book, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (2000), which sees equitable and private land ownership as a key factor for economic growth and development, this thesis details South Africa’s own landed past in order to better understand its political present. Its central research question asks: What role did South Africa’s land and agricultural policies from 1860-1920 play in the country’s unequal development over time? This thesis traces historical transitions in land ownership patterns from the four weak and underdeveloped settler colonies (The Cape Colony, Natal, Orange Free State and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) to the rapidly industrialising, but racialised, South African state and the eventual emergence of white commercial farming by 1920. The thesis engages with a long heritage of South African historical writing on political economy as a central methodology, from its early liberal roots with W.M. Macmillan’s writings on rural poverty in the 1920s, to more radical, neo-Marxist writings of the 1970s and 1980s. This thesis argues that the racialised land and labour policies from 1860-1920 produced a white oligarchy of landowners, which led to an unequal distribution of wealth over time and following De Soto, therefore inhibited economic growth and development. The thesis ultimately speaks to the validity of De Soto’s work, as well as the importance of land and agricultural policies in South Africa today.