Bernadette Atuahene’s new book, We Want What’s Ours: Learning from South Africa’s Land Restitution Program, is now out from Oxford University Press. The following op-ed—which appeared today in the Mail & Guardian, a top-selling South African weekly newspaper—discusses recent events in South Africa’s ongoing program of land restitution in light of the book’s core themes.
Lack of communication is an injustice in land restitution
By signing the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, President Jacob Zuma recently initiated round two of South Africa’s programme of land restitution. Yet, before entering this new phase, the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights will have to learn from its previous mistakes and build on its successes.
For my new book, We Want What’s Ours, I interviewed 150 land claimants whose families were forcibly removed from urban areas. Through these interviews, we can begin to understand the commission’s successes and failures from the most important vantage point – that of dispossessed individuals and communities.
One of the principal findings in We Want What’s Ours is that good communication between commission officials and claimants is absolutely vital. Stories from former residents of the Luyolo township in Simon’s Town illustrate this point.
The Luyolo claimants were one of the few communities to have had a choice between receiving land or financial compensation. Whereas those who selected financial compensation have been paid out, those who chose land are still waiting – even 16 years after filing their claims.
There is no doubt that locating and transferring land to claimants is a complex task that takes time. But if claimants do not get regular updates on the challenges faced by the commission, they are left waiting in the dark and feeling disrespected, anxious, and frustrated. When I asked a former resident of Luyolo, who was among those waiting for land, if the commission was doing anything well, he angrily replied: “A big no! A big no! [They] are doing an injustice! Yes, it’s an injustice!”
If the commission had mechanisms to keep communities regularly informed about the inevitable challenges it faced, claimants could have taken a ride in the front seat of the process, alongside the commission, as partners in the long journey, instead of being left in the dark.
Although there are several things the commission must do to improve communication in round two, I will provide two specific suggestions.
Click here to see Professor Atuahene’s suggestions in the full article→
For more information on Professor Atuahene’s book, visit wewantwhatsours.com.