Buying Land on Credit: Networks of debt, risk and investment among black land purchasers in early 20th Century Transvaal

Monday, 28 October, 2019 - 15:00

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Debt cancellation and land redistribution were not just demands of revolutionary movements in ancient times. In South Africa redistribution of land is at the heart of contemporary activism, enlivened by recent moves towards a new Expropriation Bill. But two of the questions currently missing from public debate about expropriation in South Africa are: who will own the land when it is redistributed and where will they get the funds to implement the plans they have for that land? These questions are also key to resolving the problems in collective land holding entities developed for land reform, like Communal Property Associations and Community Trusts. Ownership of land and access to credit are often overlooked not only in present land reform debates, but also in histories of land acquisition and land struggle. My PhD on a history of collective property ownership in South Africa, between 1900 and 1994, aims to tackle this oversight. By tracking the arc of black South Africans’ engagements with property law and the making of communities in rural Mpumalanga, I intend to reconstruct a history of practices and intellectual traditions that black farmers developed around collective property ownership. Doing so offers insight into the alternatives that people developed to the limiting conceptualizations of property entrenched during the apartheid period. The reified notions of property recognized by the state were often expressed as a binary of communal land under chiefs versus individual title deeds.

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