Struggles with activism: NGO engagements with land tenure reform in post-apartheid South Africa

E. Fortin

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In 2004, a long-awaited piece of post-apartheid legislation, the Communal Land Rights Act to reform the land tenure of those living in the former 'homelands' of South Africa - was passed into law unanimously by parliament. This unanimity, however, conceals the extent to which the process towards this moment was deeply contested. Exploring the efforts by land sector NGOs to secure legitimacy in their engagements with this process reveals the extent to which wider power relations and contestations have determined their positioning. Those within the non-governmental land sector who opposed the legislation pitted themselves against African National Congress politicians and high-profile traditional leaders. However, the adoption of a Mamdani-inspired discourse to contest such politics and oppose the proposed legislation contributed to re-inscribing narrow readings of knowledge considered to be legitimate. Their engagements were also shaped by changes in the NGO sector. Reduced funding for land sector NGOs and an increasingly ambivalent relationship between them and government contributed to contestations between NGOs and among people working within them. Their strategic engagements in such wider and internal politics influenced both the frames within which such policy change could be debated and the ways in which individuals working for NGOs consequently positioned themselves in relation to their constituents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-411
Number of pages29
JournalThe Journal of Modern African Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


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