From land dispossession to land restitution: European land rights in South Africa

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Behind every colonial and imperial project laid a persistent constellation of ideas in which rights, obligations and duties were specified to justify colonialism and establish ownership of land. This constellation of ideas provided the reasons for European expansionism, in addition to forming part of the ideological practices of the land-centred settler colonial project of founding new political orders. In this article, I explore the ideologies of land appropriation in colonial South Africa, paying particular attention to the idea of ‘empty land’ and ‘trusteeship’. As well as attending to this partly neglected aspect of South Africa's colonial history, I argue that land restitution today continues to be informed by norms that were used to justify occupation and the appropriation of lands inhabited by indigenous peoples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-339
Number of pages19
JournalSettler Colonial Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017


  • Colonial political thought
  • South Africa
  • land rights
  • terra nullius
  • trusteeship
  • ‘empty land’

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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