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South Africa’s Communal Land and the Traditional Elites

17 million people in South Africa reside on communal land in areas largely controlled by traditional leaders. These areas are the remnants of the former homelands that were created during the apartheid years for occupation by black people. The abuse of power by traditional leaders has been the subject of numerous legal disputes where communities have had to revert to the courts to secure their rights in land on which they have lived for generations. While South Africa’s Constitution recognises the role of traditional leadership in the democratic dispensation, many of the interactions between traditional authorities and their subjects are marred by irrational and abusive practices that highlight a culture of self-enrichment, rather than the exercise of power for the benefit of the community. The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has been involved in a number of disputes between communities and traditional authorities. Most recently, the LRC represented the rural community of Mphintsho Village in the Eastern Cape.