Access to Land - Women's Struggle in South Africa's Former Bantustans

By Mann, Michelle | The World and I, March 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Access to Land - Women's Struggle in South Africa's Former Bantustans

Mann, Michelle, The World and I

Black women constitute the poorest socioeconomic sector of South Africa's population. Most are unemployed and live in impoverished rural areas. In fact, rural women are disadvantaged even when compared with men of the same race and class. In particular this is true with regard to rights and access to land and to the control women are able to exercise over it.

Land is a productive resource and means of survival. Although women make up the majority of the rural population, they manage only a small proportion of rural land. They face major obstacles with respect to legitimate access to this resource, and any access they have is insecure. Women also have fewer decisionmaking powers, from the home to the nation's government. In rural South African communities, land is a means of access to community leadership and political power. Thus, women's exclusion from independent control over land has contributed to their political disenfranchisement at the local level.

But in the new South Africa's former Bantustans, or homelands, rural women are actively working to transform their status. One focus of their struggle is the conflict between the demands of gender equality and the entrenched practices of traditional leadership and customary law. Through sharing their stories, and with the assistance of certain nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, many rural women have identified an essential need to lobby for equal rights to land access and the structures of government.

To understand the problem, one should consider the nation's recent political background.

Until the 1990s, it was the apartheid government's policy that black people should not own land. This was done primarily to free up valuable properties for white occupation. The Bantustans were the result of programs, instituted from 1913 onward, that dispossessed black South Africans of land ownership. Ultimately, under this policy, all black people were eventually to be displaced and relocated to these artificially created "ethnic homelands."

In 1994, the first truly democratic elections were held in South Africa. In an attempt to remedy the legacy left by apartheid, the new government declared its intention to make land reform a priority. The focus of the tenure reform program is the strengthening of individual and community land rights in the former Bantustans. On October 11, 1996, the final constitution was adopted, as amended, by the Constitutional Assembly. It enshrined the principle of gender equality as well as the practices of customary law and traditional leadership.

During negotiations for the interim constitution, however, traditional leaders challenged the emphasis on equality. Their chief negotiator repeatedly insisted that women were not the equals of men. The resulting constitution consequently left many issues of consequence to rural women largely unresolved.

Traditional leadership and customary law

Traditional African communities are patriarchal in nature, and women have been considered to be minors. This status is still reflected in customary law. With no laws providing for women's independent access to land, a woman's opportunities will depend on whether she can persuade the traditional authorities of her need. Given the power of chiefs, who are invariably men, women encounter obstacles in inheriting--or obtaining--land.

Under apartheid, hereditary traditional leaders and their councils in the former Bantustan communities were responsible for allocating land held in trust by the state. This concentration of power led to the marginalization of women and many allegations of despotism. In postapartheid South Africa, the reincorporation of the former Bantustans has highlighted the conflicts between concerns for gender equality and the practices of traditional leadership and customary law. Land tenure reform is also often viewed as directly threatening the power of traditional authorities.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Access to Land - Women's Struggle in South Africa's Former Bantustans


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?