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Land restitution and the moral modernity of the new South African state

English title Land restitution and the moral modernity of the new South African state
Applicant Zenker Olaf
Number 137094
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Ethnology
Start/End 01.01.2012 - 31.12.2015
Approved amount 516'817.00
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Keywords (8)

land restitution; statehood; transnationalism; multiple moral modernities; juridification; governance; postcolonialism; South Africa

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Land restitution and the moral modernity of the new South African state

Olaf Zenker

This SNF Ambizione project at the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern investigates the ongoing South African land restitution process, in which the new state compensates victims of former land dispossessions that were based on laws discriminating “race”. This restitution process has recently been the focus of a critical literature, exploring the phenomenon in its interconnected political, legal, economic and moral dimensions. Building on this research, the project addresses a central research gap by focusing on the renegotiations of modern statehood that are at the core of South African land restitution, given that the new state simultaneously functions as the main driving force, the judicial arbiter and the core reference point (as claims are lodged against the state). The research thereby operates from within a framework of “multiple modernities” (Eisenstadt). It thereby acknowledges that the negotiations about the appropriate ways of righting land-related wrongs of the past in order to make for desirable futures through state-orchestrated human agency take place under conditions, as the involved actors notice themselves, of existential contingency. Given that restitution’s explicit mandate is to unmake the historical injustices of the old state, this process is also crucially concerned with fusing the highly perfected “formal rationality” of the former apartheid state with a different and broadly acceptable “substantive rationality” (Max Weber) into a new, if contested, “morally modern” polity. This project thus studies the current land restitution process as an exemplary site, at which the moral modernity of the new South African state is contested, renegotiated and made.

In order to do so, the project conducts a total of 13 months of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in South Africa, in the course of which four concrete land claim cases as well as their entanglements with the two relevant state agencies – the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights & the Land Claims Court – are being investigated. The selection of these four exemplary cases is motivated by the desire to find as divergent cases as possible in order to maximise diversity, while simultaneously keeping the cases together through a common denominator. This has led to a sample of cases, all of which share the commonality of being intimately linked to the creation and contested history of the former KwaNdebele homeland near Pretoria/Johannesburg. In accordance with the principles of multi-sited fieldwork, the project thereby follows clusters of actors, who are all connected by a single land claim, to their respective places, including the actually disputed farms. These clusters typically consist of (various subgroups of) the claimants, their legal representatives, land NGOs, the current landowners, their attorneys and advocates, agricultural unions, officials at the commission in the regional and national offices, staff of the Land Claims Court (judges, registrars, researchers etc.), research specialists, including anthropologists, who work as consultants in land claims and figure as expert witnesses and the like.

Using participant observation, various interview techniques as well as a source-critical analysis of court files and archival material, the project thus contributes to the current anthropology of multiple (moral) modernities and the postcolonial state through providing an in-depth empirical study of the ongoing land restitution process in South Africa. In addressing, within the South African context, the crucial issues of cultural diversity and difference, the global trend towards juridification and the changing role of the modern state in increasingly transnationalised contexts, the project thereby makes a contribution to crucial debates within and beyond anthropology that will become even more important in the years to come. At the same time, the project will also generate knowledge, solidly grounded in empirical research, that can be used to improve the actual practices of the ongoing restitution process in South Africa.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
South African homelands as frontiers: apartheid’s loose ends in the postcolonial era - an introduction.
Zenker Olaf, Jensen Steffen (2017), South African homelands as frontiers: apartheid’s loose ends in the postcolonial era - an introduction., in Zenker Olaf (ed.), Routledge, London, 1-16.
South African homelands as frontiers: apartheid’s loose ends in the postcolonial era.
Zenker Olaf, Jensen Steffen (2017), South African homelands as frontiers: apartheid’s loose ends in the postcolonial era., Routledge, London.
South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele.
Zenker Olaf (2017), South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele., in Zenker Olaf (ed.), Routledge, London, 83-98.
De-judicialization, outsourced review and all-too-flexible bureaucracies in South African land restitution
Zenker Olaf (2015), De-judicialization, outsourced review and all-too-flexible bureaucracies in South African land restitution, in Cambridge Anthropology, 33(1), 81-96.
Failure by the numbers? Settlement statistics as indicators of state performance in South African land restitution
Zenker Olaf (2015), Failure by the numbers? Settlement statistics as indicators of state performance in South African land restitution, in Rottenburg Richard (ed.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 102-126.
Homelands as frontiers: apartheid's loose ends
Jensen Steffen (ed.) (2015), Homelands as frontiers: apartheid's loose ends, Journal of Southern African Studies 41(5) [Special Issue], London.
Homelands as frontiers: apartheid's loose ends - an introduction
Jensen Steffen, Zenker Olaf (2015), Homelands as frontiers: apartheid's loose ends - an introduction, in Journal of Southern African Studies, 41(5), 937-952.
New law against an old state: land restitution as a transition to justice in post-apartheid South Africa?
Zenker Olaf (2015), New law against an old state: land restitution as a transition to justice in post-apartheid South Africa?, in Anders Gerhard (ed.), Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, 113-134.
South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele
Zenker Olaf (2015), South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele, in Journal of Southern African Studies, 41(5), 1019-1034.
Transition and justice: an introduction
Anders Gerhard, Zenker Olaf (2015), Transition and justice: an introduction, in Anders Gerhard (ed.), Wiley-Blackwell, Malden , 1-19.
Transition and justice: negotiating the terms of new beginnings in Africa
Anders Gerhard (ed.) (2015), Transition and justice: negotiating the terms of new beginnings in Africa, Wiley-Blackwell, Malden.
New law against an old state: land restitution as a transition to justice in post-apartheid South Africa?
Zenker Olaf (2014), New law against an old state: land restitution as a transition to justice in post-apartheid South Africa?, in Development and Change, 45(3), 502-523.
Review: Melancholia of freedom. Social life in an Indian township in South Africa, by Thomas Blom Hansen
Zenker Olaf (2014), Review: Melancholia of freedom. Social life in an Indian township in South Africa, by Thomas Blom Hansen, in American Ethnologist, 41(2), 384-385.
Transition and justice: an introduction
Anders Gerhard, Zenker Olaf (2014), Transition and justice: an introduction, in Development and Change, 45(3), 395-414.
Transition and justice: negotiating the terms of new beginnings in Africa
Anders Gerhard (ed.) (2014), Transition and justice: negotiating the terms of new beginnings in Africa, Development and Change 45(3) [Special Issue], The Hague.
White claimants and the moral community of South African land restitution
Zenker Olaf (2014), White claimants and the moral community of South African land restitution, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper No. 151, Halle.
Land restitution and transitional justice in post-Apartheid South Africa
Zenker Olaf (2012), Land restitution and transitional justice in post-Apartheid South Africa, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper No. 134, Halle/Saale.
The indicatorisation of South African land restitution
Zenker Olaf (2012), The indicatorisation of South African land restitution, Basler Afrika Bibliographien BAB Working Paper 2012:01, Basel.
The juridification of political protest and the politicisation of legalism in South African land restitution
Zenker Olaf (2012), The juridification of political protest and the politicisation of legalism in South African land restitution, in Eckert Julia (ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 118-146.
Bush-level bureaucrats in South African land restitution: implementing state law under chiefly rule
Zenker Olaf, Bush-level bureaucrats in South African land restitution: implementing state law under chiefly rule, in Zenker Olaf (ed.), Ashgate, Aldershot.
Judicial renegotiations of “customary law” in post-apartheid South Africa
Zenker Olaf, Judicial renegotiations of “customary law” in post-apartheid South Africa, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper No. XXX, Halle.
Legal pluralism, communal land tenure and multiple livelihoods in South Africa’s countryside
Zenker Olaf, Legal pluralism, communal land tenure and multiple livelihoods in South Africa’s countryside, in Journal of Legal Pluralism.
Processing the paradox: when the state has to deal with customary law
Zenker Olaf / Hoehne Markus, Processing the paradox: when the state has to deal with customary law, in Zenker Olaf / Hoehne Markus (ed.), Ashgate, Aldershot.
The state and the paradox of customary law in Africa
Zenker Olaf / Hoehne Markus (ed.), The state and the paradox of customary law in Africa, Ashgate, Aldershot.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Prof. Dr. Foblets Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Department of Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand, Prof. Dr. Coplan South Africa (Africa)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Exchange of personnel
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa, Dr. Cassiman Belgium (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Division of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Dr. Harri Englund Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Exchange of personnel
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Prof. Dr. Rottenburg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester, Prof. Dr. Reyna Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, Prof. Dr. Stephan Palmié United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University, Prof.Dr. J.L. Comaroff United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Director Dr. Messerli Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Seminar Series “Sovereignty and Social Contestation in Complex Societies“ Individual talk Land restitution (old and new), neo-traditionalism and the contested values of land justice in South Africa 15.12.2016 Utrecht University, Netherlands Zenker Olaf;
Forschungskolloquium von Prof. Dr. Philipp Dann Individual talk Land restitution (old and new), neo-traditionalism and the contested values of land justice in South Africa 14.12.2016 Law and Society Institute Berlin, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany Zenker Olaf;
2016 Restitution Conference: „Something for Everyone“ Talk given at a conference Restituting (more) justice: exploring alternatives for redressing historical injustices in South Africa 09.11.2016 Restitution Foundation: Castle of Good Hope, Kapstadt, South Africa Zenker Olaf;
Workshop Rajak/Muehlebach, European Association of Social Anthropologists EASA 2016 Conference Talk given at a conference The re-opening of land restitution, neo-traditionalism and the contested values of land justice in South Africa 20.07.2016 Milan, Italy Zenker Olaf;
Land & Accountability Research Centre (LARC), Lunch Time Seminar Series Individual talk The re-opening of land restitution, neo-traditionalism and the contested values of land justice in South Africa 11.03.2016 University of Cape Town, South Africa Zenker Olaf;
Workshop “Recht als Kommunikation” der Querschnittsgruppe Normenpluralität am SFB 700 “Governance in Räumen begrenzter Staatlichkeit” Talk given at a conference Kommunikative Vermittlung, Übersetzung, Brokerage? Zur Implementierung von Staatsrecht in der südafrikanischen Landrückerstattung 18.02.2016 Berlin, Germany Zenker Olaf;
Internationale Konferenz: "Transforming Africa – Africa transforming?” Talk given at a conference The re-opening of land restitution, neo-traditionalism and the contested values of land justice in South Africa 24.11.2015 University of Stellenbosch, South Africa Zenker Olaf;
Congress of the German-speaking Associations of the Sociology of Law: "The Promises of the Law / Die Versprechungen des Rechts" Talk given at a conference Bush-level bureaucrats in South African land restitution: implementing state law under chiefly rule 09.09.2015 Berlin, Germany Zenker Olaf;
AEGIS 6th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS 6) Talk given at a conference Retributive versus distributive justice: popular demands and official narratives in Sierra Leone and South Africa 08.07.2015 Paris, France Zenker Olaf;
Lecture Series “Dimensions of agency: entrepreneurship in business, culture and governance” Individual talk ‘Politics by other means’ revisited: legal entrepreneurs and land reform in post-apartheid South Africa 06.07.2015 Universität Leipzig, Germany Zenker Olaf;
CRASSH: Pursuing justice in Africa Talk given at a conference Doing justice to the land question? Navigating the plural legal orders of South African land restitution 27.03.2015 University of Cambridge, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zenker Olaf;
Institute of Social Anthropology Seminar Series, University of Bern Individual talk Anthropology on trial 24.02.2015 University of Bern, Switzerland Zenker Olaf;
Ethnology Research Seminar Individual talk South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele 18.02.2015 University of Lucerne, Switzerland Zenker Olaf;
Joint Institutes Colloquium of the Max Planck for Social Anthropology and Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, MLU Individual talk Anthropology on trial: exploring the laws of anthropological expertise 03.02.2015 Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale, Germany Zenker Olaf;
Cambridge Review of International Affaires (CRIA) Speaker Series Individual talk Roundtable discussion on "Transition and Justice" 01.12.2014 University of Cambridge, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zenker Olaf;
57th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association (ASA) Talk given at a conference Land restitution and the contested remaking of autochthony in South Africa 20.11.2014 Indianapolis, United States of America Zenker Olaf;
European Association of Social Anthropologists EASA 2014 Conference Talk given at a conference South African land restitution and the contested eligibility of white claimants 31.07.2014 Estonian Institute of Humanities, Tallinn University, Estonia, Estonia Zenker Olaf;
1994-2014: 20 years of South African Democracy Talk given at a conference Politics by Other Means Revisited: Legal Activism and Land Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa 25.04.2014 University of Oxford, African Studies Centre, St. Anthony's College, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zenker Olaf;
Colloquium of Cultures and Development Studies (CADES) Individual talk Legal pluralism, communal land tenure and multiple livelihoods in South Africa’s countryside 10.12.2013 Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium Zenker Olaf;
Research Seminar of the Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa (IARA) Individual talk Recursive prolegomena: the morally modern state of anthropology 09.12.2013 Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium Zenker Olaf;
112th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Talk given at a conference Recursive prolegomena: the morally modern state of anthropology 24.11.2013 Chicago, United States of America Zenker Olaf;
112th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Talk given at a conference Discussion: Pastoralism and the new commons: co-management, conflict, and cooperation 22.11.2013 Chicago, United States of America Zenker Olaf;
Negotiating Normative Spaces: Insights from and into African Judicial Encounters Talk given at a conference Mind the gaps: renegotiating South African legal pluralism within the post-apartheid state 07.11.2013 Max-Planck-Institut für ethnologische Forschung, Halle/Saale, Germany Zenker Olaf;
African Studies Workshop Individual talk De-judicialisation, outsourced review and all too flexible bureaucracies in South African land restitution 30.09.2013 Harvard University, Cambridge MA, United States of America Zenker Olaf;
17th World Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) Talk given at a conference Implementing state law under chiefly rule: navigating the plural legal orders of South African land restitution 05.08.2013 University of Manchester, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zenker Olaf;
AEGIS 5th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS 5) Talk given at a conference De-judicialisation, outsourced review and all too flexible bureaucracies in South African land restitution 27.06.2013 Lissabon, Portugal Zenker Olaf;
International Conference of the Euro-African Association for the Anthropology of Social Change and Development (APAD) Talk given at a conference Recursive prolegomena: notes on the morally modern state of anthropology 13.06.2013 Montpellier, CIRAD, France Zenker Olaf;
Land Divided: Land and South African Society in 2013, in Comparative Perspectice Talk given at a conference South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele 24.03.2013 University of Cape Town, South Africa Zenker Olaf;
Africa Research Forum Individual talk White claimants and the moral community of South African land restitution 31.10.2012 Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zenker Olaf;
Research Seminar on Anthropological Theory Individual talk South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele 26.10.2012 Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zenker Olaf;
European Association of Social Anthropologists EASA 2012 Conference Talk given at a conference South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele 10.07.2012 University of Nanterre, Paris, France, France Zenker Olaf;
Centre of African Studies CAS@50 Conference Talk given at a conference Bush-level bureaucrats in South African land restitution: implementing state law under chiefly rule 06.06.2012 Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland , Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zenker Olaf;
Tuesday Research Seminar in African History Individual talk The indicatorisation of South African land restitution 29.05.2012 University of Basel, Centre for African Studies & Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Basel, Switzerland, Switzerland Zenker Olaf;
MAPS lecture series Individual talk Politics by other means revisited: legal activism and land reform in post-apartheid South Africa 10.05.2012 Institut d'ethnologie, Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Switzerland Zenker Olaf;
Revisiting communal land tenure: perspectives on households, families and work from below Talk given at a conference State law, customary law and communal land tenure within South African land reform 04.05.2012 IGK Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany, Germany Zenker Olaf;
The new public good: affects and techniques of flexible bureaucracies Talk given at a conference Failure by numbers? Settlement statistics as indicators of state performance in South African land restitution 23.03.2012 University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zenker Olaf;
Wits Anthropology Seminar Series Individual talk The transitional justice of land restitution in post-apartheid South Africa 08.03.2012 University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, South Africa Zenker Olaf;
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology Seminar Series Individual talk The indicatorisation of South African land restitution 02.03.2012 University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa, South Africa Zenker Olaf;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Print (books, brochures, leaflets) Landreform in Südafrika: Die Neuauflage der Landrückerstattung setzt falsche Akzente German-speaking Switzerland International 2013

Awards

Title Year
Appointment as tenured Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, beginning on 01.02.2017. 2017
Appointment as Junior Professor at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, beginning on 01.01.2015. 2014
Appointment to the "Consultative Committee" of the Department "Law & Anthropology" at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology 2014
Shortlisted for the Theodor Kocher Prize 2014 of the University of Bern 2014
Visiting Full Professorship (W3), Summer Semester 2014, at the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Cologne 2013
Visiting Scholarship at St Edmund's College, Cambridge 2012

Abstract

This Ambizione project investigates the current South African land restitution process, in which the new state compensates victims of former land dispossessions based on past “racially” discriminatory laws. This restitution process has recently been the focus of a critical literature, exploring this phenomenon in its interconnected political, legal, economic and moral dimensions. Building on this research, the Ambizione project addresses a central research gap by focusing on the renegotiations of modern statehood that are at the core of South African land restitution, given that the new state simultaneously functions as the main driving force, the judicial arbiter and the core reference point (as claims are lodged against the state). The project operates from within a multiple-modernities-framework (Eisenstadt), acknowledging that these negotiations about the appropriate ways of righting land-related wrongs of the past in order to make for desirable futures through state-orchestrated human agency take place under conditions of existential contingency. What is more: given that restitution’s explicit mandate is to unmake the historical injustices of the old state, it is also crucially concerned with fusing the highly perfected formal rationality of the former state with a different and broadly acceptable substantive rationality (Max Weber) into a new, if contested, “morally modern” polity. The Ambizione project thus studies the current land restitution process as an exemplary site, at which the moral modernity of the new South African state is contested, renegotiated and made (see 2.1).The Ambizione project will form the main and concluding part of my ongoing habilitation project at the Institute of Social Anthropology in Bern. After postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics (MSc 1999), the University of Hamburg (MA 2002) and doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Germany (PhD 2008), I deliberately moved to the Institute of Social Anthropology in Bern in February 2009, because my envisioned habilitation project just fitted perfectly into the institute’s profile. This decision has proven absolutely correct, motivating the current application for this project to be located in Bern. Within the University of Bern, I have built an additional cooperation with the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE). Furthermore, a 4-year-affiliation (as visiting researcher) to the Department of Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) already exists, and three short-term research visits to the University of Chicago, the University of Manchester and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology are planned for the Ambizione period (see 2.2).Given the embeddedness of the Ambizione project in the overall habilitation process, 8 months of ethnographic fieldwork will already have been done, when the proposed project starts in December 2011. During the then following three years, a good third of the overall fieldwork (i.e. another 5 months in two blocks), the bulk of data analysis and virtually all of the writing up will be taking place. With regard to data collection during fieldwork I will continue to investigate, on the one hand, 4 exemplary land claims cases that - chosen for their diversity - are linked through a common history of incorporation into the former homeland KwaNdebele. On the other hand, I will continue contextualizing these cases through participant observation on the general procedures within the two main state institutions running the restitution process (i.e. the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights and the Land Claims Court). Using a multi-sited ethnographic approach that “follows” the cases, I will combine participant observation with various interview techniques. In the course of data collection, data analysis (following a grounded theory approach) and writing-up, three concentric research questions on the empirical specificities of the cases, thereby observable instantiations of statehood and, finally, negotiations about the state’s moral modernity will direct the research (see 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4).This research project will contribute to the current anthropology of multiple (moral) modernities and the postcolonial state through providing an in-depth empirical study of the ongoing land restitution process in South Africa. In addressing, within the South African context, the crucial issues of diversity and difference, the global trend towards juridification and the changing role of the modern state in increasingly transnationalised contexts, the project will thereby participate in debates within and beyond anthropology that will become even more important in the years to come. At the same time, the project will also generate knowledge, solidly grounded in empirical research, that can be used to improve the actual practices of the ongoing restitution process in South Africa. Finally, this project will also significantly enhance my career prospects within anthropology through providing me with the opportunity to write, conclude and hand-in my habilitation thesis (to be published as a book) as well as to produce several articles for scientific journals (see 2.5).
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