More than simply ‘socially embedded’: recognizing the distinctiveness of African land rights

May 2006
Ben Cousins and Aninka Claassens

Discusses controversies generated by recent South African legislation (the Communal Land Rights Act), shows how these echo debates in the wider African context, and explores potential solutions to reform of ‘customary’ land tenure regimes. Argues that the most appropriate approach to tenure reform is to make socially legitimate occupation and use rights the point of departure for both their recognition in law and for the design of institutional contexts for mediating competing claims and administering land. Legal frameworks should vest land rights in the people who occupy and use land, not in groups or institutions, while recognising that these rights are shared and relative within a variety of nested social units.

Keynote address at international symposium on ‘At the frontier of land issues: social embeddedness of rights and public policy’, Montpellier, France