The Rights and Wrongs of Land Restitution: "Restoring What Was Ours."

By Amanor, Kojo Sebastian | African Studies Review, April 2011 | Go to article overview

The Rights and Wrongs of Land Restitution: "Restoring What Was Ours."


Amanor, Kojo Sebastian, African Studies Review


LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS Derrick Fay and Deborah James, eds. The Rights and Wrongs of Land Restitution: "Restoring What Was Ours." New York: Routledge-Cavendish, 2009. xx + 288 pp. Tables. Figures. Notes. References. Index. $75.00. Cloth.

Land restitution is concerned with the restoration of landed property to its former owners. In the introduction to The Rights and Wrongs of Land Restitution, Derrick Fay and Deborah James argue that the appropriation of land results in a loss of both economic autonomy and a sense of belonging and community. Land restitution involves an appeal to modern longings for a romanticized notion of community and security. It is also associated with technical processes related to the legal system and development plans, since the contested lands are often sites for particular development activities.

In contrast with notions of land redistribution, restitution is not concerned with ironing out inequitable distribution of land to create a more just future, but with the reestablishment of a former right based on principles of justice rather than equality. Land restitution is exclusive. It is based on returning land to former landlords who can prove claims on the land, rather than on redistributing land to those who historically have been dispossessed through internal processes of expropriation and enclosure that have redefined them as proletarians within the nation-state. Restitution claims are thus established through political appeals to exclusivity based on historical memory and symbols associated with indigeneity, identity, and autochthony. Land restitution encompasses two distinct notions of national politics: one based on universal notions of human rights and the rights of the marginalized, and the other based on notions of assertive and exclusive groups rights, heritage, and notions of primordial cultural connections based on ethnic sovereignty. Thus restitution enables certain types of contested and problematic property rights to be framed, resolved, and transferred without challenging the dominant notions of property rights within the nation-state. Rights to restitution are staked in the language of property, despite claims that indigeneity embodies a different conception of relationship between people and things.

The introduction identifies and summarizes the main issues involved in restitution processes and their implications for interlinkages between concepts of community, state, and development, and symbols concerned with identity, livelihood, accumulation, memory, the invention of tradition, alienation, and modernity. This is followed by eleven chapters based on case studies of different restitution processes in former colonial and socialist countries, including three chapters on South Africa, two on Canada, and one each on the U.S., Peru, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, and Romania.

The three chapters on South Africa examine the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve (Derick Fay), agricultural settiement in Mandalzini and Makhoba (Yves Van Leynseele and Paul Hebinck), and District Six in Cape Town (Christiana Beyers). Fay argues that in the Dwesa-Cwebe reserve, restitution served to co-opt the beneficiaries into management of the reserve, expanding their duties in managing the protected reserve while providing them with very limited access to livelihood resources. …

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