‘Returning’ the land? Chizuko Sato, ‘Land Tenure Reform in Three Former Settler Colonies in Southern Africa’, in Shinichi Takeuchi (ed.), African Land Reform Under Economic Liberalisation, Springer, 2021, pp 87-110


Abstract: This study explores the challenges of land tenure reform for three former settler colonies in southern Africa–Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa. While land redistribution programmes have been the primary focus of land reform for these countries since independence, land tenure reform for the inhabitants of communal areas is an equally important and complex policy challenge. Before independence, the administration of these areas was more or less in the hands of traditional leaders, whose roles were sanctioned by the colonial and apartheid authorities. Therefore, one of the primary concerns with respect to reforming land tenure systems in communal areas is related to the power and authority of traditional leaders in the post-independence period. This study highlights striking similarities in the nations’ land tenure reform policies. All of them gave statutory recognition to traditional leaders and strengthened their roles in rural land administration. In understanding this ‘resurgence’ or tenacity of traditional leadership, the symbiotic relationship between the ruling parties and traditional leaders cannot be ignored and should be problematised. Nonetheless, this chapter also argues that this obsession with traditional leadership may result in the neglect of other important issues related to land tenure reform in communal areas, such as the role of customary land tenure as social security.

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