edward cavanagh on dispossession in south africa


Edward Cavanagh, ‘The History of Dispossession at Orania and the Politics of Land Restitution in South Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies 39, 2 (2013).

This article takes for its subject a small piece of land on the southern banks of the middle Orange River, which has been known in the last few decades as ‘Orania’. A human history of its longue durée is presented, tracking the relationship between people and land, from San occupation right up to the introduction of individualist understandings of private property by European settlers. This is a history of dispossession that carries on into the twentieth century, when the land in question became state-owned before reverting, again, to private ownership. Using interviews, newspaper articles and existing official records, this article then recounts a little-known event: the dispossession of a small squatter community in Orania between 1989 and 1991. After this ‘removal’, Orania was transformed into a small Afrikaner volkstaat, a place exclusively white and Afrikaans. In 2005, the new community discovered that the town’s previous inhabitants had lodged a land claim with the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights. This article analyses the investigation and resolution of this claim in order to examine how the concept of restitution has been politicised in post-apartheid South Africa. It argues that the discourses involved in the reclamation of land rights have often been ignorant of more comprehensive histories of dispossession.

%d bloggers like this: