Accepted paper:

"Keeping land for their children": rethinking the social meanings of land in South Africa's Transkei


Derick Fay (University of California, Riverside)

Paper short abstract:

Land in the former Transkei homeland is commonly viewed as a site of rural retirement for migrant laborers. In contrast, this paper examines the agency of those left behind in rural areas, taking a novel approach to the social meaning and politics of "communal" land, and showing how "keeping land for their children" aims to keep migrants from absconding.

Paper long abstract:

Land in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape comprising the Transkei homeland has been conventionally seen as a site of rural retirement for migrant laborers. In contrast, this paper examines land and notions of "home" through a focus on the agency of those left behind by migrants in rural areas, and the ways in which they press claims to land as a way to persuade migrants to maintain rural ties. Retired migrants' interests in land are less as a site of production or reproduction, but of attraction: "keeping land for their children" emerges as a strategy to encourage their migrant children to return, in a context of increasing scarcity of rural agricultural and residential land. Land must be seen in the context of relations between generations, in which the loyalties, aspirations, and capabilities of young migrants are increasingly uncertain. Claims to land are about displaying--and evoking--the idea that one's children belong in and to their rural homes, as much as they are about any intentions to cultivate or occupy a plot. Despite longstanding ethnographic evidence of the ritual and material work that is done to convince migrants to maintain ties to their rural homesteads, these issues have scarcely been explored directly in the literature on communal land tenure. Drawing upon more than 25 months of fieldwork around Dwesa-Cwebe, conducted between 1998 and 2011, the paper develops its argument through an examination of changes and continuities in land tenure, settlement patterns, and domestic architecture.

panel W030
Home, lands and homelands in post-apartheid South Africa (EN)