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Reviewed by:
  • Land-Marked: Land Claims and Land Restitution in South Africa, and: Land, Power and Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa's Communal Land Rights Act
  • Lionel Cliffe
Cherryl Walker. Land-Marked: Land Claims and Land Restitution in South Africa. Johannesburg: Jacana Media; Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008. xii + 292 pp. Abbreviations. Maps. Photographs. Tables. Appendixes. Endnotes. Bibliography. Index. $26.95. Paper.
Aninka Claassens and Ben Cousins, eds. Land, Power and Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa's Communal Land Rights Act. Published for the Legal Resources Centre. Cape Town: UCT Press; Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008. xv + 392 pp. DVD. Maps. Abbreviations. Contributors. Notes. Tables. References. Index. $34.95. Paper.

These two books are indispensable additions to the core literature on land reform in South Africa. In their different approaches and structures, they both offer a creative mix of academic insights and the entrenched experience of activists, and of local case studies with a wealth of concrete sociological detail alongside broad discourses on modes of analysis on a national and continental scale. They each concentrate on one element of what Cherryl Walker refers to as "the three-legged cooking pot" of land reform policy initiated in 1994: the Restitution Programme and the attempt to reform land tenure in the former Bantustans, respectively. Neither covers the third leg of redistribution (the transfer of former white-owned farmland to black occupants), which is the leg that has received most attention and funding— although some of Cherryl Walker's general evaluations do extend to cover it. Indeed, her somewhat skeptical and cautious overall conclusions about the future of land reform apply to both redistribution and restitution plans.

Walker's account of restitution provides a look back to the origins of today's problem in previous decades when the injustices of forced removals occurred. Her study is enriched by personal accounts from this period, when she was a "participant observer" working to resist the removals. She supplies a similar insider's account of the first stage of the restitution program, but this time from a position within the new state as the commissioner for land claims in Kwazulu-Natal. Since moving into academia after 2000, her work has continued to benefit from a third perspective, that of academic researcher. The book thus juxtaposes and interrelates the three elements and perspectives: emotive personal memories and indelible images of dispossession; a planner's account of the mechanisms and frustrations of restitution; and the evaluation of the record. The memories from long ago of a little girl lost in a removal suggest the ways in which such incidents became the currency of a historical narrative at the heart of the rhetoric of national liberation; at the same time, they provide a measure of success or failure and serve to remind us of the complex reality covered up by the national myth. The approach embodied in this fusion of perspectives serves in turn [End Page 191] as an explanation of why the restitution program failed. Over and above the occasional lack of political will, the over-bureaucratization and inefficiency, and the mistaken policy formulations (all of which are acknowledged in the account), Walker sees inherent conflicts in the dual goals of reversing injustice and stimulating rural development oriented toward the poor: limits to what can be achieved and how quickly these goals can be achieved via restitution. Here, however, her "cautious, sceptical" views about the limitations inherent in South Africa's semi-arid environment, especially as it is affected by global warming—views that perhaps are tinged with an implicit acceptance of the inevitability of economies of large-scale, capital-intensive farming—might be questioned. These factors do not automatically stack the cards against smallholder alternatives.

The edited volume Land, Power and Custom also bridges the concerns of serious intellectual analysis with an activist engagement with policy, but it does so in a fashion different from Walker's. One obvious difference is that its fifteen contributors are drawn from academia, professional groups, and activist organizations that were brought together as a civil society body, the Legal Resources Centre, which is also one of the publishers. In addition, the collection emerged from a specific campaign: to offer...


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