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The conference took place on 17-19 August 2022

Land Conference 2022

The Failed Promise of Tenure Security. Customary Land Rights and Dispossession. Hosted by Legal Resources Centre, LARC at University of Cape Town, PLAAS at University of Western Cape and SWOP and Wits.

Conference Information

Twenty-five years after South Africa’s Constitution was adopted the 18 million South Africans living in the former homelands have limited recognition of their tenure security, land and livelihood rights. Instead, their customary and informal land rights are directly and systematically under threat from government laws, policies and practices that abrogate these rights. Inadequate tenure security also impacts on the outcome of the redistribution and restitution programmes as beneficiaries are often unable to defend the land rights they acquire against predatory elites and find themselves threatened with exclusion.

This Conference sought to inform and enrich the public, academic and political discourse about land tenure rights, ongoing threats to these rights, and the urgent need for legal measures to protect and enhance tenure security in line with the Constitution. It sought to understand the dynamics of past and current contestations over property and authority in the former homelands and on land reform land, and the vested interests at stake. It interrogated how and why the state has (again) chosen to pursue policies and enact legislation that favours particular elites, including traditional leaders. It sought to engage with, and contribute to strategies and practices concerning community mobilisation, policy initiatives and litigation approaches that protect and enhance tenure security in the former homelands, South African Development Trust Land and on land reform land more generally.

The conference was structured around the following themes:

  • Documenting and exposing the scale, nature and impact of past and current threats to tenure security, and/or contestations over property and authority.
  • Examining the place of customary law in the constitutional era and the interface between customary and common law land rights and constructs of ownership in the context of the tenure security promised by section 25(6) of the Constitution. Comparative experience about the status of customary rights from other jurisdictions fits within this theme.
  • Providing and examining past and current evidence of the content and nature of customary land rights to ensure that they are legible and respected within the dominant paradigm of common and statutory law in South Africa or comparative experience of the treatment of customary land rights within dominant legal paradigms in other jurisdictions.
  • Examining mobilisation, policy and/or litigation strategies that have attempted to protect customary and other existing rights from past and current threats.
  • Discussion of alternative policies, practices and laws that give effect to tenure security both in South Africa and in other jurisdictions – particularly examples from the African continent and the global south.

The conference, which took place on 17-19 August 2022, was a hybrid event and was jointly convened by the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC) at UCT, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at UWC and the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) at Wits.

Conference Talks

Media Interviews

This conference was co-hosted by the SA Research Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, hosted at PLAAS. This SARChI Chair is funded by the Department of Science and Innovation and National Research Foundation.

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