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Land restitution and transitional justice in post-Apartheid South Africa

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Other publication (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 (peer-review)

Publisher Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper No. 134, Halle/Saale
ISBN ISSN 1615-4568

Open Access

Type of Open Access Repository (Green Open Access)


This paper scrutinises South African land restitution in terms of ‘transitional justice’, in which, based on a legal framework redressing past human rights violations of the old state, ‘the justice’ of the new beginning in South Africa is continuously contested and renegotiated. After sketching the legal and institutional set-up of land restitution, the ‘justice’ of the actual restitution process is explored with regard to conflicting interpretations by various actors involved in an exemplary land claim on the so-called "Kafferskraal” farm in Mpumalanga. Here, a focus on divergent understandings of what historically constituted valid rights in land as well as corresponding forms of past compensation reveals continuing discrepancies regarding the legitimacy of various property regimes. Given that the legal framework for land restitution does not encourage intensive engagements between opposed parties, possibly furthering mutual understanding and ‘commonsense’, this reductionist processing has thus contributed little to racial reconciliation and a sense of working together towards a new state of justice – a fact that is arguably both reflected and exacerbated by the telling absence of any significant discussion of South African land restitution in terms of ‘transitional justice’.