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The indicatorisation of South African land restitution

Type of publication Not peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Other publication (non peer-review)
Publication date 2012
Author Zenker Olaf,
Project Land restitution and the moral modernity of the new South African state
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Other publication (non peer-review)

Book The indicatorisation of South African land restitution
Publisher Basler Afrika Bibliographien BAB Working Paper 2012:01, Basel
ISBN ISSN 1422-8769

Open Access

Type of Open Access Repository (Green Open Access)


This paper investigates the social life of settlement statistics in South African land restitution that have recently come to be interpreted, and contested, as indicators of state performance. Based on an overview on the legal and institutional set-up of the ongoing land restitution process in South Africa, the text focuses on the shifting relevance of restitution’s settlement statistics, leading to their deliberate transformation into indicators of state performance. While this development has led to a remarkable success by the numbers in dramatically reducing the outstanding claims still to be settled, the paper goes on to highlight worrying inconsistencies in the actual figures, unpacks some of the local complexities that escape simple quantification and discusses unintended consequences of indicatorisation, which, taken together, rather seem to point to a failure by the numbers. While acknowledging some of the substantial criticism aired against the indicatorisation of settlement statistics, the text finally discusses these figures as boundary objects that make possible in the first place the translation of various concerns and the switching of codes between claim-specific settings and the national arena of land reform. Emphasising autopoietic self-correction within the rational-legal logic of modern statehood, the text concludes that indicatorisation, at least in the case of South African land restitution, has indeed both increased state performance and made visible and processible, for the state and the public alike, worrying deficiencies that still persist.