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(Re)constituting class?: owners, tenants and the politics of land reform in Mpumalanga

James, Deborah, Ngonini, Alex Xola and Nkadimeng, Geoffrey Mphahle (2005) (Re)constituting class?: owners, tenants and the politics of land reform in Mpumalanga. Journal of South African Studies, 31 (4). pp. 825-844. ISSN 0305-7070

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Identification Number: 10.1080/03057070500370613


The article demonstrates some unintended consequences of land reform, showing how the restoration of land has become a local political resource. Sectors of South African society beyond the classic ‘black spot’/restitution constituency have latched on to the discourse linking restored land with restored citizenship: many farm workers and tenants, although their land rights are officially designated for protection under other legislation, have lodged land claims and are distressed at the state's failure to settle these. The article demonstrates contested relationships between such people – now evicted from their former homes on white farms and seeking refuge on restored African-owned farms – and their mostly unwilling landlords, set against a broader geographical and historical backdrop of owner–tenant relationships. Members of the two constituencies, configured in ethnic as well as class terms, variously draw on repertoires advocating, or contesting, forms of moral ‘good’. These include two contrasting views of citizenship: one highlights the rights of all citizens to be equal, while another is grounded in the restored ownership of private property. State officials have responded to owner–tenant ethnic conflicts by trying to appease the latter, facilitating their visions of citizenship by pandering to ethnically-defined regional majorities of the landless. The African National Congress (ANC), having promised equal rights at the election, has been ‘reshaped’ as the party of the poor and landless by tenants holding the Party to its promises, while the ANC-supporting title-holders whose land rights were restored to them, and who thus embody the inequalities inherent in private property ownership, have been redefined in the popular imagination as supporters of the opposition. Local perceptions of party and state, constructed in the course of owner–tenant conflicts on African-owned land, amount to a reshaping of citizenship by the landless.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: (c) 2005 Taylor & Francis Group.
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Date Deposited: 17 Aug 2007
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2021 03:52

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