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White claimants and the moral community of South African land restitution

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Other publication (peer-review)
Publication date 2014
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. 151, Halle

Open Access

Type of Open Access Repository (Green Open Access)


South African land restitution, in which the post-apartheid state compensates victims of racial land dispossession, has been intimately linked to former homelands: prototypical rural claims consist of communities that lost their rights in land when being forcibly relocated to reserves and now aspire to return to their former lands and homes from their despised “homelands”. However, white farmers, who were also dispossessed (although usually compensated) by the apartheid state in the latter’s endeavour to consolidate existing homelands, have lodged restitution claims as well. While the Land Claims Court has principally admitted such restitution claims and ordered upon the merits of individual cases, state bureaucrats, legal activists as well as other members of the public have categorically questioned and challenged such claiming of land rights by whites. Focussing on white land claims related to the built-up of former KwaNdebele, this paper investigates the contested field of moral entitlements as emergent from divergent discourses about 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 (that 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, 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.