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"After years in the wilderness" : the discourse of land claims in the new South Africa

By Deborah James


The paper examines land restitution in the new South Africa, and looks at the intersecting roles of land-claiming communities who were forcibly resettled from their land during the apartheid years and the NGOs and – since 1994 - Government Commissioners who have helped them to reclaim the land. Ideas and practices concerning land, community and development that have emerged from the interaction between these different players have been mutually constitutive but are sometimes mutually incomprehensible. A populist rhetoric, evident both in discussions with former land owners, and in much of the writing in NGO publications such as Land Update, depicts land as something communally owned which must be communally defended. This sense of a uniformly experienced injustice and a shared resistance against outside intervention obscures the fact that claims on land derive from a series of sharply differentiated historical experiences and articulate widely divergent interests, such as those - in the case of the farm Doornkop for example - between former owners and their former tenants. The restitution of land to these former owners, while being of great importance to them as a source of identity and as a redress of past injustices, is not necessarily the key to solving “poverty, injustice and misery” as has been claimed for the process of land reform as a whole

Topics: GN Anthropology
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Year: 2000
DOI identifier: 10.1080/03066150008438743
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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