New article by Maxim Bolt examines home ownership disputes in Johannesburg townships

03 March, 2021

A new article by Maxim Bolt explores the complex ways in which apartheid continues to shape the legal-administrative processes surrounding disputes over home ownership in Johannesburg's townships.

Expanded home ownership in Johannesburg’s townships offered the prospect of post-apartheid formal inclusion. Yet allocation of title to former rental homes has been characterised by a profound lack of normative consensus regarding ownership or inheritance.

In bitter disputes over houses, appeals to law jostle and interweave with claims in a customary register. In much regional scholarship, normative pluralism provides a point of departure for understanding disagreement of this kind. This article proposes an alternative perspective by examining how dissensus is mediated and given shape by a legal–administrative process. Law becomes inchoate in layers of bureaucratic encounter, while contested claims to custom are sharpened at the interface with bureaucracy.

In South Africa, taking administration as a starting point reveals the long shadows of apartheid in concrete experiences of the law, in extra-legal understandings, and in the very terms of contestation among kin.

Illuminating the little-explored topic of urban property inheritance, the perspective has broader implications for understanding inequality. Inclusion through homeownership is a form of ‘adverse incorporation’ marked by official opacity, diffidence regarding the law, stratifying administrative dualism, and uncertainty about the parameters of ownership and inheritance.

Maxim Bolt (2021) 'Homeownership, Legal Administration, and the Uncertainties of Inheritance in South Africa’s Townships: Apartheid’s Legal Shadows', African Affairs, DOI: 10.1093/afraf/adab001