Contesting customary law in the Eastern Cape: gender, place and land tenure
Authors Tara Weinberg
Affiliations: Researcher in the Rural Women’s Action Research Programme at the Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town
Source: Acta Juridica, 2013, p. 100 – 117
This paper explores how government interventions to restrict African access to land in the ‘Ciskei’ in South Africa between 1930—1960 impacted disproportionately on women. It focuses on events in three districts, Fort Beaufort, Keiskammahoek and Peddie, making use of archival research to show how African people, particularly women, responded to government interventions that progressively rendered them landless. The paper interrogates how Africans’ contestation of customary law and their relationship to the land was intricately tied up with the gendered nature of their family positions, privileges and responsibilities. Since the arenas in which women could voice their issues were limited, men sometimes articulated these issues (albeit in a mediated form) when the interest of a woman who approached them coincided with their own. Male Bunga Councillors appealed to a ‘living’ form of customary law in attempts to win greater rights to land inheritance for women and younger sons. They positioned their children as ‘responsible’ daughters and ‘responsible’ sons. In a context in which the state frequently used the language of ‘African custom’, in distorted ways, to justify its land policies, men and women contested not only the restraints on Africans’ access to land, but also the nature and content of customary law.