New “traditional” strategies and land claims in South Africa: a case study in Hammanskraal.

08 January 2014

In post-apartheid South Africa, many hopes were pinned on the process of land-restitution to be a major part of power and wealth redistribution. However, as the land claims process is linked to demonstrable historical legitimacy, this process has sometimes necessitated both the restating and reinventing of local histories and “ethnic identities”, in line with new political structures or moral frameworks. This article addresses continuity and innovation in strategies around historical adaptation to governance structures, ethnicity and “traditional” structures in South Africa. These themes will be explored using Hammanskraal, located in the north of Gauteng, as a case study, examining the way legitimacy has been gained, constructed and established in two specific periods: around 1911-1944 and 1995-2010. In 1944, government ethnographer NJ Van Warmelo produced a history of Johannes “Jan Tana” Kekana’s Ndebele, depicting the history and lineage of the AmaNdebele-a-Moletlane group. In 1995, a substantial land-claim was lodged by a contestant for the chieftaincy of the AmaNdebele-a-Moletlane, presenting a different historical background that contested the narrative produced by Van Warmelo. The contestant for the chieftaincy, not currently officially recognised by South African state structures, has used various strategies to concretise his position. These strategies show how entrenched historical legitimacy is being counteracted by popular modes of expression, construction and communication. This new politics, consciously constructed around ideas of traditional structures and legitimacy, interacts with new power structures, adding the importance of political connections or resources to the construction of the claim. Contextualising this historically shows how continuities regarding “traditional” authorities have interacted with the state before, during and after apartheid.