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Rosalie Kingwill

Research Associate


Rosalie Kingwill combines academic, policy and applied research in the field of land rights, land administration and property relations, including some contracted work on land rights enquiries and land claims. She worked in the land sector in the Eastern Cape for nearly 30 years, attaining her PhD in early 2014 when she moved to Cape Town. She completed a two-year post-doctoral research position at PLAAS from 2015-2016 after which she became a research associate.

Her PhD, under the supervision of Prof Ben Cousins, involved an examination of property relations among African freeholders in the Eastern Cape based on detailed empirical evidence, applying ethnographic, diachronic and socio-legal analysis. A central theme that emerged was the critical importance of kinship relations and social networks in the construction, adjudication, distribution and maintenance of property rights through the medium of land title, a form of tenure that was made available to a relatively select group of Africans in the second half of the nineteenth century. The thesis analysed the emergence of specific elements of hybridisation of customary and common-law norms and principles that endure to this day. The principles conform with patterns in other forms of tenure and can thus be generalised. The effects are to constrain accumulation and class formation in particular historic land tenure contexts. These provide a form of family welfare and family identity that is maintained through customary succession that preserves lineal rather than nuclear family relations. These findings fundamentally question the assumptions of major state and financial interests that the introduction of title transforms property relations in the direction of individual accumulation.

She has extrapolated her research findings to contribute to the development of a critical perspective on land governance in African and the design of appropriate post-apartheid land administration system (including spatial planning, land use, tenure, revenue and succession and inheritance) taking into account the tensions and correspondence between local or customary systems of land administration on the one hand, and the formal land administration system that services registered rights on the other. More latterly she has been working with a range of NGO and other stakeholders on land governance, and in 2017-2018 conducted an evaluation of a land records system introduced by an NGO in an informal settlement in Cape Town with Prof Mike Barry which is contributing to insights into urban tenure formalisation and policy formation.

Research Focus

  • Policy development, application and evaluation of appropriate, alternative land administration institutions in Africa that promote tenure security and respect customary systems
  • Policy and curriculum development on land governance institutions in South Africa
  • Critical impact assessment of effects of formalisation on land tenure and property relations and class formation


  • PhD Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape 2014.
  • BA Honours, History, University of Cape Town 1976.
  • Secondary Teacher’s Diploma (now Postgraduate Certificate in Education) University of Cape Town 1974 in Development Theory and Policy, University of the Witwatersrand

Selected Publications

  • Kingwill, R 2017.  ‘Square Pegs in Round Holes: the Competing Faces of Land Title’ in Donna Hornby, Rosalie Kingwill, Lauren Royston & Ben Cousins, Untitled: Securing Land Tenure in Urban and Rural South Africa, Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press
  • Kingwill, R 2017. ‘An Inconvenient Truth: Land Title in Social Context — A South African Perspective’ in Hanri Mostert, Leon CA Verstappen & Jaap Zevenbergen (eds) Land, Law and Governance: African Perspectives on Land Tenure and Title, Cape Town: Juta
  • Kingwill, R 2016 “[En]gendering the Norms of Customary Inheritance in Botswana and South Africa. Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 48(2).
  • Kingwill, R. 2014.  ‘Papering over the Cracks: An Ethnography of Land Title in the Eastern Cape’ in Kronos: a Journal of Southern Africa, 40 (Special issue ‘Paper Regimes in Southern Africa’ edited by Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie)
  • Kingwill, R. 2013. ‘In the Shadows of the Cadastre: family law and custom in Rabula and Fingo Village’, in Paul Hebinck & Ben Cousins (eds), In the Shadow of Policy: Everyday practices in South African Land and Agrarian Reform, Johannesburg: Wits University Press
  • Kingwill, R. 2012 ‘Lost In Translation. Family Title in Fingo Village, Grahamstown’ in Hanri Mostert and Tom Bennett (eds) Pluralism and Development: Studies in Access to Property in Africa, Cape Town: Juta.
  • Kingwill, R. 2008. ‘Custom-building freehold title: the impact of family values on historical ownership in the Eastern Cape’ in Aninka Claassens and Ben Cousins (eds) Land, Power and Custom: Controversies generated by South Africa’s Communal Land Rights Act,  Cape Town: UCT press.