Apartheid, gender and property relations in South Africa: Some reflections from Rahube v Rahube & Others

Authors: Kennedy Kariseb & Nimrod Muhumuza

Kennedy Kariseb Nimrod Muhumuza

Land reform is a litmus test for how far post-apartheid democratic South Africa is willing to go to redress its abhorrent racist and sexist history. There have been several attempts to reconcile colonial and apartheid-era laws with their concomitant rights and obligations in the new democratic dispensation, epitomised by the transformative 1996 Constitution. The latest proposal is to expropriate land without compensation which is currently undergoing public consultation. However, scant attention has been paid to the gendered land relations that have excluded women from owning land in their own name.

The recent  judgment of Kollapen J in Rahube v Rahube & Others,[1] is one such case that indicates the difficulty of reconciling the impact of a skewed racial, gendered history in a new democratic dispensation premised in a supposedly transformative constitutional regime.[2] The Rahube judgment is another (rather unfortunate) reminder of the subordinate position that women occupy in South Africa, as in most parts of Africa, reminding us that inasmuch as land and property relations in South Africa were racially anchored, they were, (and still are) thoroughly gendered. This is because for the most part, colonial and apartheid laws and practices limited, and at worst excluded women from accessing and controlling resources such as property, including land.[3]

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