Aaron Young

The Landscape of Urban Restitution in South Africa

Land reform remains central to socio-political reform in post-apartheid South Africa. In the wake of colonial and apartheid histories forged by racial, gendered and spatial engineering, land restitution emerged as the first major piece of post-apartheid legislation in 1994, a process now criticized for its failure to unmap centuries of dispossession and discrimination. Whereas the racial character of land was paramount during the political transition—largely obscuring gendered disparities—‘the land question’ was ultimately subsumed by the narratives of citizenship and nationalism. In 2014, the restitution claims process re-emerged amidst challenges to the current political leadership, demands for national expropriations of land, and a groundswell of land-based struggles. However, this current process prioritizes state mediation between landholders and current claimants, and favors group claims made on behalf of historic and imagined communities. As such, the beneficiaries of past dispossessions are obscured by state arbitration, and centuries of gendered discrimination precluding land ownership among women are perpetuated beneath the mantle of ‘traditional’ community structures. My research analyzes the colonial and apartheid continuities within this restitution process, and the points of current contestation and negotiation that emerge to challenge the racial and gendered landscape of restitution.