, Volume 77, Issue 6, pp 753–763 | Cite as

Property rights, land tenure and the racial discourses

  • Maano RamutsindelaEmail author


A persistent theme in land and agrarian studies is the appropriation of land and natural resources by mostly Western foreigners and the inequitable division of land and natural resources between Indigenous people and white settlers. It was this overt racial inequality in land ownership and the accompanying structures of oppression that led to the rise of liberation movements in Africa, South America and Asia. Most, if not all, land and agrarian reform programmes in the former colonies take the racial inequality in land as their point of departure. The same applies to the process of changing the inequalities in the use and ownership of natural resources such as wildlife, fisheries and forests. Whereas critical scholarship and social movements vehemently opposed the racialized nature of land dispossession, less attention has been paid to the persistence of racialized tenure systems. The silence on the racial character of land and natural resource tenure is rather surprising given that colonial tenure systems were based on race and racist grounds. This paper draws on examples from nature conservancies and communal land reform in southern Africa to argue that the dual land and natural resource tenure inherent from colonialism and apartheid remains intact in contemporary southern Africa. It also suggests that the democratic governments in the region and critical scholarship have failed to challenge the racialized character of land tenure. Instead, they continued to reinvent orthodox views of society and culture. Race seems to matter most in property regimes in the region in as far as it relates to equity rather than its initial categorization of people. The consequences of the persistence of the racialized tenure systems are that the success or failure of land and resource use and management reproduces racial explanations.


Race Communal tenure Conservancies Dualism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Geographical ScienceUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa

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