Most South Africans Used Restitution to Increase Net Economic Assets, Atuahene Report Finds
September 5, 2012, ABF news
Illustration from Mail & Guardian, "Land is not a Utopia for the dispossessed," by Bernadette Atuahene
In July, ABF Faculty Fellow Bernadette Atuahene released a report on the South African land restitution process entitled “Paying for the Past: Addressing Past Property Violations in South Africa.” Contrary to popular belief, Atuahene found that in many cases the money has had an enduring economic impact.
The South African government commissioned this report in 2008 when Atuahene began her research. Atuahene interviewed 150 beneficiaries of the Land Restitution Commission, the government agency tasked with providing financial compensation or land transfers to South Africans who were forcibly removed under apartheid and colonialism.
Atuahene’s report contradicts the Land Restitution Commission’s belief that financial compensation has not had a long term economic effect. Among Atuahene's findings are:
- 30% of interviewees who chose a cash award used it to improve their primary asset—their home.
- 33% used the funds such that they moderately increased their economic assets.
- When the award did not have an enduring economic effect, the award was often very small.
In her report, Atuahene recommends that the Commission:
- engage in the complicated task of transferring land to people who have the requisite skill set or resources to develop it.
- consider the cash awards a viable alternative to land transfers – which are complicated and time consuming – for restitution claimants who have a valid legal claim, but not necessarily the requisite skills or resources to develop the land to which they are entitled.
- boost the effectiveness of cash awards by providing vouchers that are larger than the cash amount and can be used to purchase items with an enduring economic impact such as building materials or to make direct payments to educational institutions.
Atuahene conducted an extensive South African media tour after the report’s release, and was featured in leading South African publications such as the Mail & Guardian, Business Day, and City Press. She also gave lengthy interviews on the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s “Forum @ Eight” and “Evening Radio Show with Masechaba” programs. Upon her return, she gave an interview on Chicago Public Radio’s “Worldview” program.
Atuahene’s forthcoming book, We Want What’s Ours: Redressing Past Property Violations in South Africa, is based on the interviews she conducted during this field work. She is also directing and producing a documentary film about one South African family’s struggle to reclaim the land stolen from them during apartheid.
For more about the film, please visit www.discwebsite.org.
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