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Keywords:

  • land reform;
  • land tenure;
  • customary authority;
  • KwaZulu-Natal

When South Africa's land reform programme finally reached rural Umbumbulu, a potential for conflict over land emerged unexpectedly. Strategically located near a major urban centre, residents of this region have long relied on wages and social welfare grants. Land was valued primarily for residential security and as a symbolic representation of community membership, rather than for productive purposes. This emphasis on community membership, however, created the potential for conflict when a local chief challenged a civil society group over their authority to claim land. With the government's continued hesitancy to challenge the authority of chiefs, land reform provided an opportunity for local chiefs to reinforce their position and potentially to expand the amount of land under their jurisdiction. This agenda conflicted both with the government's interest in developing commercial agriculture and local residents’ desire for rural land as security in the context of high levels of unemployment.