Access to land as a human right : the payment of just and equitable compensation for dispossessed land in South Africa

by Yanou, M.A.

Abstract (Summary)
This thesis deals with the conceptualization of access to land by the dispossessed as a human right and commences with an account of the struggle for land between the peoples of African and European extractions in South Africa. It is observed that the latter assumed sovereignty over the ancestral lands of the former. The thesis discusses the theoretical foundation of the study and situates the topic within its conceptual parameters. The writer examines the notions of justice and equity in the context of the post apartheid constitutional mandate to redress the skewed policy of the past. It is argued that the dispossession of Africans from lands that they had possessed for thousands of years on the assumption that the land was terra nullius was profoundly iniquitous and unjust.

Although the study is technically limited to dispossessions occurring on or after the 13th June 1913, it covers a fairly extensive account of dispossession predating this date. This historical analysis is imperative for two reasons. Besides supporting the writer’s contention that the limitation of restitution to land dispossessed on or after 1913 was arbitrary, it also highlights both the material and non-material cost of the devastating wars of dispossessions. The candidate comments extensively on the post apartheid constitutional property structure which was conceived as a redress to the imbalance created by dispossession. This underlying objective explains why the state’s present land policy is geared towards facilitating access to land for the landless.

The thesis investigates the extent to which the present property structure which defines access to land as a human right has succeeded in achieving the stated objective. It reviews the strengths and weaknesses of the land restitution process as well as the question of the payment of just and equitable compensation for land expropriated for restitution. The latter was carefully examined because it plays a crucial role in the success or otherwise of the restitution scheme.

The writer argues that the courts have, on occasions, construed just and equitable compensation generously. This approach has failed to reflect the moral component inherent in the Aristotelian corrective justice. This, in the context of South Africa, requires compensation to reflect the fact that what is being paid for is land dispossessed from the forebears of indigenous inhabitants. It seems obvious that the scales of justice are tilted heavily in favour of the propertied class whose ancestors were responsible for this dispossession. This has a ripple effect on the pace of the restitution process. It also seems to have the effect of favouring the property class at the expense of the entire restitution process.

The candidate also comments on the court’s differing approaches to the interpretation of the constitutional property clause. The candidate contends that the construction of the property clause and related pieces of legislation in a manner that stresses the maintenance of a balance between private property interest and land reform is flawed. This contention is supported by the fact that these values do not have proportional worth in the present property context of South Africa. The narrow definition of “past racially discriminatory law and practices” and labour tenant as used in the relevant post apartheid land reform laws is criticized for the same reason of its uncontextual approach. A comparative appraisal of similar developments relating to property law in other societies like India and Zimbabwe has been done. The writer has treated the post reform land evictions as a form of dispossession. The candidate notes that the country should guard against allowing the disastrous developments in Zimbabwe to influence events in the country and calls for an amendment of the property clause of the constitution in response to the practical difficulties which a decade of the operation of the current constitution has revealed.

Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:faculty of law


Date of Publication:01/01/2005

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