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Preface

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2021

William Beinart
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Rosalie Kingwill
Affiliation:
University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Gavin Capps
Affiliation:
Kingston University, London
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Summary

This edited collection illustrates contestations over land, law and political authority in South Africa's rural areas, focusing on popular rights. The chapters were initially presented at three workshops that addressed the theme of Contested Histories in the rural areas. The first was convened by Gavin Capps and Peter Delius in October 2015 at the University of the Witwatersrand. It was prompted by the recognition that historians and social scientists were increasingly being drawn into legal contests over land and political authority in the contemporary South African countryside, both as expert witnesses in court cases and through the provision of research to government, communities and lawyers. The workshop sought to create a space to compare such engagement in applied research work.

Participants discussed the specific cases in which they had been involved and the broader context of research. Some reflected critically on their experiences of providing court testimony, as well as assisting lawyers, non-governmental organisations and communities. Some participants had been directly engaged in policy formation and legislative processes. A common theme concerned the importance of historical and anthropological research about land, chiefs, governance and custom in these debates. Participants agreed to continue the conversation through future workshops and to encourage younger researchers in this field, working at the interface between academic scholarship and public engagement.

A second workshop was organised in May 2016 by Aninka Claassens, with the assistance of Rosalie Kingwill and other colleagues at the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC), University of Cape Town. This was a larger event that honed in on the role of law and the impact of the Constitution (Act 108 of 1996) with regard to strategically pressing issues of land ownership and property rights in the former homelands, as well as the increasing significance of customary law. This workshop sought also to promote a positive exchange between academics and practitioners, especially lawyers. The LARC workshop assessed the research priorities necessary to mount a legal, historical and discursive challenge to the current government policy of prioritising the authority of traditional leaders and councils over land and rural governance. Detailed discussion was directed to the land rights of ordinary occupants and users. There were a number of outcomes, including a focused discussion of land legislation that led into recommendations to the High Level Panel that reported to Parliament in 2017.

Type
Chapter
Information
Land, Law and Chiefs in Rural South Africa
Contested histories and current struggles
, pp. xi - xii
Publisher: Wits University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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