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South African land restitution, white claimants and the fateful frontier of former KwaNdebele

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2015
Author Zenker Olaf,
Project Land restitution and the moral modernity of the new South African state
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Southern African Studies
Volume (Issue) 41(5)
Page(s) 1019 - 1034
Title of proceedings Journal of Southern African Studies


South African land restitution, through which the post-apartheid state compensates victims of racial land dispossession, has been intimately linked to former homelands: prototypical rural claims are those of communities that lost their rights in land when being forcibly relocated to reserves, and they now aspire to return to their former homes and lands from their despised ‘homelands’. However, white farmers, who were also dispossessed (although usually compensated) by the apartheid state in its endeavour to consolidate existing homelands, have lodged restitution claims as well. While the Land Claims Court has principally admitted such restitution claims and ruled upon the merits of individual cases, state bureaucrats, legal activists, and other members of the public have categorically questioned and challenged such claims to land rights by whites. Focusing on white land claimaints affected by the consolidation of former KwaNdebele, this article investigates the contested field of moral entitlements emerging from divergent discourses about the 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 (which 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.