Accepted Paper:

South African land restitution and the contested eligibility of white claimants  


Olaf Zenker (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg)

Paper short abstract:

Focussing on the contested eligibility of white land claims, this paper analyses the South African land restitution process as a fateful zone of contestation, in which the terms of a new South African moral community are negotiated.

Paper long abstract:

South African land restitution, in which the post-apartheid state compensates victims of "racial" land dispossession, has been intimately linked to former homelands: prototypical claims consist of communities that lost their rights in land when being forcibly relocated to reserves and now aspire to return to home and lands from their despised "homelands". However, white farmers, who were also dispossessed (although usually compensated) by the apartheid state in the latter's endeavour to consolidate existing homelands, have lodged restitution claims as well. While the Land Claims Court has principally accepted such restitution claims as eligible and ordered upon the merits of individual cases, state bureaucrats, legal activists as well as other members of the public have categorically questioned and challenged such claiming of land rights by whites. Focussing on a number of white land claims related to the built-up of former KwaNdebele, this paper investigates the contested field of moral entitlements as emergent from divergent discourses about true victims and beneficiaries of apartheid. It pays particular attention to land claims pertaining to the western frontier of KwaNdebele - the wider Rust-de-Winter area, which used to be white farmland expropriated in the mid-1980s for consolidation (that never occurred) and currently vegetates as largely neglected no-man's-(state-)land under multiple land claims. Being the point of reference for state officials, former white farmers, Ndebele traditionalists, local residents and other citizens and subjects, this homeland frontier is hence analysed as a fateful zone of contestation, in which the terms of a new South African moral community are negotiated.

Panel P045
Tracing eligibilities: moralities, performances, practices (EASA Network for Anthropology of Law and Rights)