Bernadette Atuahene, LAPA Fellow; Chicago- Kent Law School

Land Restitution in South Africa: Voices from Below

Mon, 04/02/2012
4:30 - 6:00 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall
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We hope you will join us for a LAPA Seminar with Bernadette Atuahene, LAPA Fellow and Assistant Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent Law School and Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation, to discuss "Land Restitution in South Africa:  Voices from Below".  Her commentator is Carolyn Rouse, Professor of Anthropology at Princeton.

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Kerstetter Room, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.  The topic and paper will be available prior to the seminar.

Abstract:  "In South Africa's political transition from apartheid to democracy, the incoming political administration—led by the African National Congress (ANC)—entered into a bargain with the outgoing apartheid government.  The ANC conceded to the apartheid government's demand to constitutionally protect existing property rights regardless of how the owners had acquired their property.  In exchange for this ample concession, the ANC secured section 25(7) of the South African constitution, which states that a "person or community dispossessed of property after 19 June 1913 as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled…to restitution of that property or to equitable redress."  This chapter evaluates the implementation of this constitutional provision by contrasting what was supposed to happen according to the law with what actually happened according to the 150 interviews I conducted with people who were forcibly removed from urban areas and received compensation."

Bernadette Atuahene is Assistant Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent Law School and a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. She received her undergraduate degree at UCLA, her law degree at Yale, and an MPA at Harvard’s Kennedy School. While still in law school, she worked as a human rights investigator for the Center for Economic and Social Rights, where she received Amnesty International’s Patrick Stewart Human Rights Award for her work with human rights organizations throughout South America. Following law school, she served as a judicial clerk at the Constitutional Court of South Africa, working for Justices Madala and Ngcobo. She then worked as an associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in New York, where she focused on sovereign debt and real estate transactions. Her research deals with confiscation and restitution of property. As a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in 2008, she worked with the South African Director General of Land Affairs and his staff. She is presently writing a book about the Land Restitution Program, which is based on 150 interviews she conducted with program beneficiaries. She is also directing and producing a documentary film about one family’s struggle to reclaim their land. Professor Atuahene teaches Law, Policy and International Development; Property; and International Business Transactions.

Carolyn Rouse is a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on why people accept systems of inequality. When people learn about social inequality extant in other cultures they often react with horror. Examples include the caste system, burqas, female circumcision, and different forms of servitude. While we find it easy to state what is wrong with social systems out there, beyond our cultural borders, people generally find it difficult to recognize power and mystification in their own backyards. Rouse’s work on race and inequality examines the discourses and practices that are used to rationalize forms of suffering as well as to negate them. The notion that ours is a meritocratic system is one example. The American ideal that social rewards are tied to merit is how we rationalize wealth inequality. While this belief helps us make sense of racial disparities, for example, it also compels us to open up opportunities for some of the poorest citizens as well.