Land, memory, reconstruction and justice


The Book Lounge in Cape Town was packed on a hot and windy evening. A new book 'Land, Memory, Reconstruction and Justice' was being launched. The book  is a collection of articles derived from papers presented at a 2006 conference which have been reviewed and updated by the contributors and the highly experienced editorial team of Cherryl Walker, Anne Bohlin, Ruth Hall and Thembela Kepe.

The book makes an important contribution to a growing collection of literature reviewing aspects of South Africa's land reform programme. Restitution is arguably the most complex and high risk element of land reform. It traverses both urban and rural dispossession. It confronts the challenges associated with attempts at restorative justice and redress of past wrongs.

As Cheryll Walker wrote in 2004:

'In contrast to the formal coherence of the generalised account of dispossession, the domain of the actual encapsulates a cascading mass of particular histories of dispossession...directed in the first instance towards local rather than national needs and constructions of the public good.

Often particular narratives of dispossession and restitution involve conflict among and within groups and competing claims for redress. Options for restitution are further constrained by current conditions on the land in question, as well as by changes that the claimants have themselves undergone in the years since they were dispossessed.'

It is precisely these issues which have made Restitution so complex and ripe for 'the unintended consequences and disappointments' which have overwhelmed many settled claims. At the heart of this it can be argued is the persistence of oversimplified, ahistorical and homogenising conceptions of community - particularly in the moment of dispossession but also through to the subsequent framing of 'community claims' given legal force in the Restitution of Land Rights Act and subsequent court precedents.

Part 3 of the book entitled Restituting Community: Politics, Identity  and Development promises to engage with these issues. Two Chapters - one by William Ellis on the Khomani San and another by Chizuko Sato on Roosboom in KwaZulu-Natal illuminate the complexities associated with Restoration and competing claims over authenticity and access to land and development resources.

However there still seems to be scope for a much more rigorous analysis of the discourses around community and the diverse meanings which are ascribed to this concept by different actors.  These discourses may romanticise the past and oversimplify the present. Too frequently this convenient shorthand has become a vehicle for concealment or the manufacture of consent which frequently favours the powerful and the better off.

These concerns aside the book brings together a wide range of articles which for the first time bring urban and rural restitution together and which combine a wealth of research and scholarship.


Reflecting on Land Resitution in South Africa
Reflecting on Land Resitution in South Africa
Posted: 2/17/2011 (8:31:41 AM)

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