Women’s eviction in Msinga: the uncertainties of seeking justice

Authors Sindiso Mnisi Weeks

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: Senior Researcher, Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town
Source: Acta Juridica, 2013, p. 118 – 142


In the results of the 2010 survey on Women, Land and Customary Law conducted by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry, a small number of women in Msinga responded that they had either been threatened with eviction or felt forced to leave their residences because of relatives. These women fell into almost all categories pertaining to marital status: never married, married, separated/deserted and widowed. Among them, a fair number had chosen not to seek legal redress at all. Of those who did seek it, most turned to the traditional authorities for assistance. Their satisfaction with the process followed by the customary authorities varied. Very few took their matters to the Magistrate’s Court; and even there, not all were content with the process. Only one woman went only to the Magistrate’s Court (without also using the traditional dispute management system). This article is based on follow-up interviews with a number of the women who responded in the survey to say that they had been constructively ‘evicted’ from residential land by their relatives. Of the women interviewed, all but one pursued justice in one or more of the legal institutions ostensibly available to them. Discussing women’s experiences of loss of residential land rights at the hands of their relatives, this article looks at the ways and extent to which, firstly, their land rights are embedded in social relations (especially marital relationships) and, secondly, the women are able to rely on the available dispute management forums to secure justice against their relatives and restore their lost rights in land. It concludes that these Msinga women’s stories affirm the literature that argues that the protection of African women’s land rights in terms of customary law — the social recognition of their rights and their enforcement through the legal system — is heavily dependent on social relations. In the course of the article, it comments on the social significance of marriage in Msinga and some of the difficulties that emerge in the survey’s attempt to measure women’s vulnerability to eviction. It then offers some suggestions concerning the social and legal interventions that might assist in obtaining clearer knowledge of the extent of women’s susceptibility to eviction (and of what forms) as well as help women to overcome the loss of residential land rights using legal means.