Recent Changes in Women’s Land Rights and Contested Customary Law in South Africa


Claassens, Aninka. 2013. “Recent Changes in Women’s Land Rights and Contested Customary Law in South Africa.” Journal of Agrarian Change 13 (1): 71–92. doi:10.1111/joac.12007.

Author: Aninka Claassens


This paper discusses the phenomenon of single women claiming, and acquiring, residential sites in the former homelands since the end of apartheid in 1994, against the backdrop of steadily declining marriage rates. It argues that the transition to democracy changed the balance of power within which ‘living customary law’ is negotiated at the local level, and emboldened women. The changes are put at risk by controversial traditional leadership laws enacted since 2003. These restore the power of definition to chiefs, and reassert constructs of customary law that obscure the dynamics of the changes under way. I suggest that the ‘changes’ may, in part, reflect the re-emergence of pre-existing repertoires that were suppressed by official customary law. The paper contrasts the Constitutional Court's inclusive approach to ‘living customary law’ and the legislative process, with the autocratic approach of the new laws, one of which has already been struck down by the Court.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Rights, Land Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2013

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