Institutional Legitimacy Building in a Context of Transition: The South African Land Claims Court


  • Kyle Farmbry,

    1. Assistant professor of public administration at Rutgers University-Newark, where he engages in research in the areas of comparative administration, organizational theory, and relations between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Prior to joining the faculty of Rutgers, Farmbry taught at The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Diego State University, and Grand Valley State University. E-mail:
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  • Raina Harper

    1. Doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware. She studies nongovernmental agencies and development in southern Africa.
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The success of societal transformation often depends on the legitimacy of the government institutions developed to mediate the transition. This article examines one case of institutional development and legitimacy building, the South African Land Claims Court. Formed in 1996 to help South Africa resolve land-claim concerns that surfaced as the nation transitioned to a postapartheid society, the court demonstrates the challenges of developing an institution in the context of large-scale societal transformation, reconciliation, and governmental legitimacy building. By tracing the evolution of the court and analyzing its first five years of activities, the article presents the challenges and opportunities of legitimacy building for entities working in transitional political and administrative settings.