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Land, Law & Chiefs in Rural South Africa

Editor(s): Gavin Capps, Rosalie Kingwill, William Beinart
Contributor(s): Ayesha Motala, Derick Fay, Dineo Skosana, Gavin Capps, Geoff Budlender, Janine Ubink, Joanna Pickering, Khumisho Moguerane, Raphael Chaskalson, Rosalie Kingwill, Sonwabile Mnwana, Tara Weinberg, Thiyane Duda, William Beinart

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Who controls the land and minerals in the former Bantustans of South Africa – chiefs, the state or landholders? Disputes are taking place around the ownership of resources, decisions about their exploitation and who should benefit. With respect to all of these issues, the courts have become increasingly important.

The contributors to Land, Law and Chiefs in Rural South Africa capture some of these intense contestations over land, law and political authority, focussing on threats to the rights of ordinary people. History and customary law feature strongly in most disputes and succession to chieftaincy is also frequently disputed. Judges have to make decisions in a context where rival claimants to property or office assert their own versions of history and custom.  The South African constitution recognises customary law and the courts are attempting to incorporate and develop this branch of jurisprudence as ‘living customary law’. Lawyers, community leaders and academics are called on to assist in researching cases around restitution, land rights and customary law.

The chapters in this collection discuss legal cases and policy directions that have evolved since 1994.   Some chapters analyse the increasing power of chiefs in the South African rural areas, while others suggest that the courts are giving support to popular rights over land and supporting local democratic processes. Contributors record significant pushback from groups that reject traditional authority. These political tensions are a central theme of the collection and thus serve as vital case studies in furthering our understanding of rights and restitution in South Africa.